When firefighters talk about public safety, we listen. After all, they spend their entire working lives focused on keeping us as safe as possible.
So it is right to consider carefully the fears raised over Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s tentative plan to reduce the number of fire engines at Southsea fire station from three to two. But do not be under any illusion that this would only affect people in Southsea, seeing as it is the only station left on Portsea Island with the closure several years ago of Cosham.
In fact, as the Fire Brigades Union today points out, this affects more than just the immediate population of Portsmouth. Due to the fact that for many jobs two trucks have to be sent out, if the Southsea pair are on a shout, a crew from Cosham will have to cover the station. If that happens, a Fareham engine may be called to an incident in Cosham. And so on, like a domino effect.
That’s before you factor in the problems in getting round Portsmouth at even the quieter times. Its congestion means it’s not a city that always lends itself to the quickest response times.
However, this proposal may well go ahead, albeit not for several months if not years. If the service and the fire authority do decide to push ahead, we would expect to see a detailed analysis of the plan, that was made public at the earliest opportunity.
This would include different scenarios of fire crews being called out to all parts of the city, and how the cover system would work. It would also contain details of the staffing level of the station, and how shifts would work not just in Southsea after any hypothetical change, but at all the stations within the region that could be asked to cover Southsea: the models must be tested to make sure that two large incidents on Portsea are not enough to send the service into meltdown.
The FBU, like all unions, stands up for its members, and is doing so in this case. But its arguments here are more than just protectionism. This must be monitored – mere words from managers about ‘protecting front-line services’ won’t be enough if proof is not given that this will not be the case.