WE MUST protect and bolster Portsmouth’s firefighter cover as the city continues to grow.
This plea was made during a meeting of the full council as concerns grow over looming cuts to the county’s fire and rescue service.
This matter is one of the most important the council has ever debated, and we need to work together to keep Portsmouth’s fire service strong.Portsmouth Lib Dem councillor Lee Hunt
Lib Dem councillors, backed by Labour, wanted everyone to make a stand against proposals to introduce smaller fire vehicles and reduce crew levels in the city.
Southsea fire station could see its crew go from 16 to 20 and its three fire engines be replaced with an enhanced vehicle, intermediate vehicle and a first response vehicle – a move that would save £578,736 a year.
Cosham could see one of its two fire engines downgraded.
But the Tory administration said it was not for councillors to pre-empt the outcome of a consultation into the changes – and that decisions should be left with ‘the professionals’.
Lib Dem councillor Lee Hunt expressed his grave concerns.
He said: ‘This matter is one of the most important the council has ever debated, and we need to work together to keep Portsmouth’s fire service strong.
‘Portsmouth’s fire service is already hard-up and many people across Portsmouth and the wider area owe their lives to these men and women. It doesn’t make any sense to reduce fire cover.’
He added: ‘We must retain all of our firefighters and fire engines. They are needed now more than ever as our city grows – it should be going the other way.’
Lib Dem Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the situation was alarming given the number of high-rise flats in the city.
He said: ‘If there is a fire in a flat in a high rise, and the fire service isn’t able to get the required number of firefighters there that are needed to get into the flat and rescue whoever is inside, those firefighters who are already there won’t stand on the wrong side of the door when there is a fire the other side.
‘They will go in without the back-up they need. That puts firefighters’ lives at risk and the people who live in high rises at risk.’
Hampshire FBU secretary Gary Jackson said: ‘The FBU is extremely concerned for the safety of the public that firefighters serve in the city.’
But Portsmouth group commander Dave Smith promised that the city would keep five fire vehicles, response times would improve and technology and equipment would be brought up to date.
Tory council leader Donna Jones accused the Lib Dems of ‘scare-mongering’ and said people shouldn’t ‘panic’ as fire bosses are drawing up proposals that will enhance public safety.
She said: ‘It’s wrong for us to try and pre-empt the outcome of the consultation being carried out by professionals who know much more about this.’
Tory councillor Ian Lyons’ proposal that the council instead urges residents to take part in the consultation, which runs until December 4, was passed by the majority of members.
Cllr Lyons said there was a shortage of ambulances and firefighters should be trained to be paramedics as they are in America.
A public consultation meeting takes place tonight at the John Pounds Centre, in Portsea, from 6.30pm to 9pm.