The Isle of Wight Council’s Cabinet have tonight (Thursday) given the go ahead for controversial plans to change how the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service operates – despite the Scrutiny Committee recommending the plans are deferred for 6 weeks.
All members of the cabinet voted in favour of the plans, going against the pleas of the Fire Bridges Union (FBU), its members and the recommendation of the Council’s own Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday.
They came to their unanimous decision after just 15 minutes of discussion about the plans.
The FBU had warned that the safety of firefighters on the Isle of Wight and the public they protect would be put at risk if the plans were given the go-ahead tonight.
Now that the review plans have been granted approval, fire appliances on the Isle of Wight could be operated with just 4 ‘riders’ – that is the number of firefighters on each appliance. The shift patterns for our dedicated crews will also change with 12 firefighters guaranteed for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
However, Councillor Outlaw said at tonight’s Cabinet meeting that no changes will be made until the HMICFRS report is received. There will also be engagement from the Chief Fire Officer for Hampshire, Neil Odin, to ensure the new shift patterns work for ‘everyone’.
Spence Cave, Brigade Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union on the Isle of Wight, earlier this week said:
“Having only four firefighters on a fire engine will place crews and the public at an intolerable risk of serious harm or possibly worse. The cabinet should reject this unacceptable, dangerous proposal immediately.
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“A crew of four not only puts firefighters at greater risk but also the public. You need five firefighters in a crew in order to carry out safety critical jobs. Anything less and it means we cannot properly prepare for either firefighting or rescue operations.
“There is a real possibility that a crew of four turn out to a house fire but cannot affect any rescues until backup arrives. They face a huge moral dilemma. Either break service protocol and begin rescue operations without the right support, for which they increase the risk of being seriously injured themselves, or they wait for backup and hope those in danger can survive. In most cases the firefighters will step in but it is a very dangerous and hazardous way of working. There maybe casualties as a result”.
During a meeting at Ryde Fire Station last night (Wednesday), questions were raised by firefighters whether under the new arrangements Ryde would be left with only 1 fire appliance at night, crewed by retained staff. Currently it has at least 1 guaranteed pump at night with up to a possible 3, plus an aerial appliance.
Firefighters are fearing the current under staffing of the retained crew in Ryde could leave the town without a fire engine at night if the plans proceed before the Retained Duty System (RDS) recruitment drive, which could take years to train and bolster the Island’s fire stations.
Howard Watts, the Island’s most senior fire officer, has said:
“Our fire service needs to evolve and respond to the challenges it faces in the 21st century and this new system will very much help in that process and improve what we can do.
“Under the existing arrangements we sometimes have up to 20 firefighters on duty during the day at Newport and Ryde, which is far above the minimum standards, and levelling out rostering and changing the shifts will help us direct resources to where and when we need them.
“It is important that the appropriate number of firefighters are assigned to an engine and, at night, five firefighters will be used, but it must also be recognised that modern equipment and techniques allows four firefighters to do the job too and, importantly, this is common practice across the country.”
The Councillors who make up the Cabinet, and who have voted through the plans, are:
- Barry Abraham
- Paul Brading
- John Hobart
- Stuart Hutchinson
- Clare Mosdell
- Michael Murwill
- Tig Outlaw
- Dave Stewart (Chairman)
- Ian Ward
- Wayne Whittle