Tagged: firemen

‘Dangerous’ fire cuts putting North East lives at risk – and the axe is to wield again

Hundreds of frontline firefighters have been axed across the North as part of “dangerous” cuts – with another round of job losses on the way.

An  investigation shows how more than 300 full-time firefighter roles have been cut in the North in the last four years.

And with brigades admitting there are hundreds more jobs still to go thanks to cuts in Government funding, campaigners claim “a tragedy is waiting to happen”.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been the biggest casualty, with the axe taking out 18.4% of staff, some 173 workers – 143 of them frontline firefighters.

Cleveland has lost 17.5% of its workforce – 110 workers including 100 full-time or ‘on-call’ firefighters, and one station has closed.

Some 56 frontline firefighters have been axed in Northumberland, but 12 ‘on-call’ roles have been created. Overall, the brigade is 49 people (11.4%) – and two stations – down.

Meanwhile, Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has lost 49 whole-time firefighters but has hired more ‘on-call’ and back office staff. It means the authority is 24 bodies lighter (4.1%) than it was in 2010.

The North East as a whole has lost 333 frontline firefighters – with that figure likely to double over the coming years.

Meanwhile Cumbria lost 16.5% of staff, including 30 full-time firefighters, while North Yorkshire is down 5% of staff, and 27 frontline firefighters.

Peter Wilcox, regional secretary at the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), said cutbacks put both firefighters and the public “at greater risk” with fewer resources to respond to potentially life-threatening emergencies.

He said: “Firefighters witnessed a decade of 2-3% year-on-year reductions to fire service funding leading up to the coalition Government taking office in 2010.

“Since this time the level of cuts have been unprecedented, with frontline services being hit by losses of 20% on average and further cuts of 7.5% planned by central Government for 2015-16.

“In real terms, we have seen fewer fire engines available to respond to emergency incidents.

“This level of cuts is not sustainable and places the public and firefighters at greater risk from fires and other emergency incidents.

“Despite David Cameron’s pledge not to cut frontline services prior to his party’s election in 2010, this is one pledge too far and has not been honoured.

“Firefighters across the North are saying enough is enough. Members of the public anticipate receiving the right level of protection and expect the appropriate response in their hour of need.”

As well as fighting domestic fires, brigades here in the North cover large industrial areas where blazes can fast accelerate.

Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said the cuts should be stopped before it’s too late. She said: “The massive cuts this Tory-led Government has inflicted on fire services are not only unacceptable, they are dangerous.

“With more cuts due, I genuinely believe that a tragedy is waiting to happen. This Government needs to think again and fund our fire services fairly.”

The figures are set to make even grimmer reading by 2018, with more drastic cuts planned – but local fire brigades reassured residents they will be protected.

Cleveland Fire Brigade  said it needs to save a further £6m in the next four years, meaning 135 frontline firefighters will be replaced by 72 ‘on-call’ staff.

Chief fire officer Ian Hayton said: “Cleveland has been at the wrong end of the Government austerity cuts and tops the league table of authorities with the highest funding reduction at more than 13%. We believe these reductions are disproportionate.”

Six fire engines, 131 more staff and three stations will be lost as part of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s three-year plan of cuts.

The authority’s chief fire officer Tom Capeling, announcing the plan in January, said the move is expected to save £5m. He said: “There is no doubt that this continues to be a challenging time for the service.”

In Durham and Darlington, the brigade is looking to save £3.6m by 2018, but bosses said firefighters lost in the last round of cuts weren’t made redundant.

Chief executive Susan Johnson said: “The small reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters has been through natural wastage – planned retirements and leavers.”

Northumberland Fire and Rescue also said further savings may be needed in the next three years.

However residents can be reassured that in the future we will continue to work with partners to provide high quality prevention and protection activity along with a well-equipped and highly trained workforce,” said assistant chief fire officer Steve Richards said.

Cuts over the last four years mean the North East has lost 13.8% of its workforce, higher than the national average of 11.2% and the third worst region in England.

Nationally, 5,124 firefighters have been lost, forcing an FBU Ring of Fire protest tour of England, including stop-offs at Redcar and Sunderland.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the union, said: “The cuts, in our view, mean the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was.

“It means, for example, people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.”

Source –  Sunday Sun, 28 Sept 2014

North East sees rapid rise in fires as Government cuts take hold

Worrying new figures reveal the North as the fire capital of the UK.

As they face planned multimillion-pound cuts, brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest hikes in fire call outs.

The latest information, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, comes as union representatives in the area warn Government bosses to stop its “slashing” of budgets or face a “bleak future”.

Cleveland topped the UK league of shame suffering a worrying 41.5% hike in recorded fires between 2012/13 and 2013/14, rising from 2,634 to 3,728.

Durham was second with a 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388, while Tyne and Wear came in fifth with a 21.1% increase, from 5,321 to 6,446.

Concerns have been raised that current Government cuts to brigades across the region can only place the public at greater risk.

It comes in the week Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) lost two engines in a bid to save cash. One was axed from Wallsend fire station in North Tyneside on Tuesday, while Swalwell in Gateshead lost a vehicle on Thursday.

Earlier this year TWF&RS unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20% of front-line posts – in a bid to save around £8m.

Union bosses today said the service was facing an uncertain future.

Dave Turner, North East brigade secretary for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), said: “It’s a very bleak and grim picture at the minute. The only answer is to stop slashing fire service budgets as we are facing a horrendous situation. We’ve already lost two engines this week.

“A lot of the work we do is not even recorded in fire statistics; work in the community, prevention work. If we are working in a much reduced financial situation, how are we going to address these matters?”

Chris Lowther, assistant chief fire officer for community safety at TWF&RS, said: “Last year we saw a 21% increase in fires we attended, this was due to a 33% increase in deliberate secondary – rubbish/grass/wheelie bin – fires and an increase in some false alarms. All other fires continued to reduce.

“The increase, as the national report says, was because there was an unusually low number of outdoor fires the previous year. This was due to a much higher than average level of rainfall.

“Over the last five years we’ve actually seen the number of fires reduce by 23% and the number of deliberate secondary fires and accidental house fires reduce by a fifth.”

Cleveland Fire Brigade announced plans earlier this year to axe 114 firefighters as part of a package of cuts to save almost £6m.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the move, which also includes the closure of a fire station in Middlesbrough, would put lives at risk.

Today, the Brigade defended their position as number one on the UK list, claiming the figures cover two very different consecutive years and are not representative of the bigger picture.

Phil Lancaster, director of community protection for the Brigade, said: “Between 2012/13, we had one of our lowest years on record, particularly when it came to grass and bush fires, known as secondary fires. Remembering back to that year, we had one of the wettest periods for more than 100 years, consequently that had a big impact on the figures.

“Skip forward a year, and we had one of the driest spring and summers since 1976.

“When you compare the two years there seems to be a stark difference, but the wider picture is much different. For the first three months of this year, the figures have reverted to a more downward trend.”

Northumberland has seen a big rise in the number of people injured in fires – from 20 in 2012/13 to 33 in 2013/14 – the highest rise in the country.

A spokeswoman for the service said: “The service has carried out a full review of performance for 2013/14.

“The national statistics of 33 fire related injuries include 11 occasions when people were given only minor first aid or advised to go to hospital for a precautionary check-up.

“When looking at the figures for England and Wales, other than the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly, Northumberland has the lowest number of non-fatal fire injuries.

“Fire related injuries for the first quarter of 2014/15 in Northumberland have reduced in comparison to 2013/14.

“The Service remains committed to improving our performance to ensure the safety of the Northumberland Community.”

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw a 35.7% rise in overall fires, just behind Cleveland.

Steve Wharton, operational delivery manager for the brigade said: “We work with partners including the Police and local authority to address areas of higher risk from secondary fires. As well as local environmental audits, fire crew patrols, school education and additional police presence in key areas, bonfire, Easter and summer fire prevention strategies are in place to mitigate the number of secondary fires. As a result of this work we have currently had approximately 35 per cent fewer fires this financial year compared to the same period last year.”

In North Yorkshire the overall number of fires increased by a more moderate 9.6% while Cumbria experienced a fall, from 1,660 incidents in 2012/13 to 1,631 in 2013/14.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  05 July 2014

Tyne & Wear Firefighters Face Cuts

One in every five firefighters in Tyne and Wear could be made redundant after the region’s fire service announced proposals to cut over £5 million from its budget.

The authority is consult on three options, including using smaller response vehicles or axing up to six engines.

Option one includes “standing down” engines on quieter nights and reducing fire fighter cover at some stations.

Option 2 would see the same cuts plus the closure of community fire stations in Wallsend and Gosforth with services moving to a new facility at Benton.

A third option sees closures in Sunderland.

If all options are backed then 131 firefighting jobs – 20% of the workforce – would go. An aerial ladder platform would also be lost.

Brigade Secretary Dave Turner said “We have made it clear in all recent discussions with senior managers that we will oppose any further cuts to frontline services.

“These are the most devastating cuts in the service’s history and will mean firefighters and the public will be at far greater risk if these cuts go ahead.

“It also means that areas of Tyne and Wear will be left without cover for extended periods – again increasing the risk to both the public and firefighters alike.”

Fire service bosses will decide on the cuts in January.

Source – Newcastle Journal 23 Oct 2013

North East Unemployment Falls – Or Does It ?

Unemployment in the North East fell by 2,000 in the three months to August, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics  showed that a total of 133,000 people were unemployed in the region between June and August – a fall of 2,000 on the previous period.

The region’s unemployment rate was 10.3% and saw a fall of 1.5%, but is still the highest in the country.

The devil, of course, is probably in the deatails that they dont’t tell you. For example, how many of those 2000 were sanctioned ?

For those who aren’t aware of them, sanctions for benefit claimants were introduced by Labour, and allowed the DWP to stop the benefits of those who were seen not to be trying – missing appointments, not turning in a list of jobs applied for (even if they were jobs you had no chance of getting), etc.  Although it was there, it seemed you had to be pretty stupid – or very unlucky – to get one.

Come the current maladministration and it’s Work Programme (WP). The WP is delivered by private for-profit companies who, in the best neo-liberal traditions, see the unemployed as something to make money out of. The “advisers” working for these companies were given the power to sanction people (although the sanction has to be confirmed by the DWP).

This was obviously a stupid move. The WP companies get paid for everyone they get off the unemployment figures – by whatever means. Someone who has been sanctioned is not counted as being unemployed for the period of their sanction – which could be for between a month and 3 years.

So if you cant get people into jobs that dont exist, sanction them instead – you hit your targets, the company makes money, who loses ? Apart from the poor sods scraping by with no income, but hey – collateral damage.

An analogy might be if firemen were only paid by the number of fires they attended. How long, especially in quiet periods, before firemen actually started fires so that they could attend them and claim the money ?

Nowadays sanctions have mutated from being a fairly rare event to flying around like confetti at a wedding. You dont actually have to do anything to get one – I know, it happened to me.

The first thing I knew about it was when I got a brown enverlope from the DWP informing me that a sanction doubt had been raised against me because I did not attend an official appointment with a WP adviser.

As I pointed out in my appeal, the reason I didn’t attend was very simple… I didn’t know about it.  No-one told me !

Happily my appeal was upheld and the sanction overturned. But by all accounts, this “phantom appointment” ploy is happening all the time now. The odd one or two you could put down to ineptitude (my WP provider once booked me an appointment on a Bank Holiday, when the office was closed – this kind of elementary mistake happens all the time) but the sheer quantity  suggests that it is widespread and seen by WP advisers as a legitimate way of achieving their targets.

So – when I see figures like the ones at the top of the page I always wonder  how many of that 2000 were actually sanctioned, and not in work at all ?  Two thousand divided by three months only equates to 666 per month (told you the devil was in the details !) How many of those were serving sanctions, I  wonder.

And however you slice up the statistics, we still have the worst unemployment levels.

If you are having problems with sanctions – or just want to read more horror stories – I suggest you view the Unemployment Movement forum – see the links section on the right of this page.