VIDEO: Chairman defends changes to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service as row breaks out over cutbacks

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THE largest change to Hampshire’s fire service in decades, including £4.1m of cutbacks, has been approved by the fire authority.

The plan, which will see about 200 firefighter jobs axed as well as new technology, new ways of working and smaller vehicles brought in, was voted through at a meeting at the service’s Eastleigh headquarters today.

Hampshire Fire Authority chairman Chairman Cllr Chris Carter, left, and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Chief Fire Officer Dave Curry ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (160224-6887)

Hampshire Fire Authority chairman Chairman Cllr Chris Carter, left, and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Chief Fire Officer Dave Curry ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (160224-6887)

Portsmouth’s Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson handed in a petition of 3,500 signatures objecting to the proposal.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There is a real concern in Portsmouth and Southsea.

‘People in Portsmouth have not been convinced by the fire authority or the fire service that the proposals will keep them safe.’

An amendment was put forward by Portchester East councillor Roger Price, on the committee, asking for officers to revisit the plans for Southsea, which will see its three trucks swapped for an ‘enhanced vehicle’, an intermediate vehicle and a first-response vehicle. This was backed by Phil Smith, ward councillor for Central Southsea.

Cllr Price said: ‘This is the only station with a question mark over it. I firmly believe we need to look again.’

He highlighted concerns about the change to crewing on the aerial ladder platform, which will see a dedicated crew removed and instead staffed by any other available firefighters.

But this amendment was voted out, with seven voting to support it and 16 councillors voting against it, including Luke Stubbs, ward councillor for Eastney and Craneswater.

Cllr Stubbs said: ‘Southsea would remain the largest fire station in Hampshire, with 16 full firefighting staff, bigger than any other fire station in the county.’

He said smaller vehicles were better as they can negotiate the tight city streets.

Cllr Stubbs said: ‘It’s an improved cover not a degradation, the whole two men with a van thing, well it’s hardly just a van, it will cost £170,000 when it is all kitted out. It is a proper fire engine.

‘When firefighters are using the high-pressure lance they don’t need as much water so they don’t need a big vehicle. The upshot is improved response times.’

The plans had been subject to a 12-week consultation, called Project Risk Review, which saw thousands of responses, plus well-attended meetings across the county.

The proposals, which looked at all 51 stations, were voted through after a three-hour meeting, with assurances from senior figures in the fire service that the recommendations would be constantly reviewed.

Chairman Cllr Chris Carter said: ‘We’re one of the best fire services in the country and we must embrace new technology and make ourselves fit for purpose.’

Firefighter numbers will be cut by at least 60 full-time and 152 retained, but with no compulsory redundancies.