REDUCING fire coverage will put both residents and firefighters at risk.
That was the defiant message last night as more than 200 people packed into Thorngate Halls in Gosport to vent their anger at money-savings plans for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Under the proposals Gosport Fire Station – which serves 74,000 people – would have no firefighters at the station during the night, but 18 firefighters would be on-call.
There was a standing ovation for Rob Dellow, a Gosport firefighter and member of the Fire Brigades’ Union, as he criticised the plans.
It came as Neil Odin, deputy chief fire officer for Hampshire, laid out plans to save £3.5m across the service.
Mr Dellow said Gosport was ‘unique’ and ‘defied the statistics’ because of its location.
He said the heavily-congested roads in and out of Gosport were the same ones used by fire engines.
He said the ‘weight of attack’ and ‘speed of attack’ was key when fighting fires.
‘That speed of attack will be severely compromised for 12 hours every night of the year,’ he said.
Two options are being considered for Gosport – one to have no immediate staff overnight and a second to have two firefighters based at the station.
The first option could mean it would take nine minutes and 45 seconds to reach a fire – four minutes more than the current average time of five minutes and 36 seconds.
Mr Dellow told the audience: ‘You will have to survive longer in that house fire than you do today.’
He added: ‘They will not make life safer.
‘They ultimately expose firefighters to much greater risk.’
The changes would see the introduction of first-response vehicles, with traditional fire engines saved for bigger incidents.
Mr Odin was jeered when he said the changes would see the set-up in Gosport more akin to some of Hampshire’s rural areas. One man shouted: ‘Gosport is not rural!’
But Mr Odin told the meeting: ‘We are clear that the risk at night is reducing.’
And he added: ‘We will always be prepared to deal with the major incidents, the Shoreham incidents.’