Union slam Derbyshire Fire staff cuts and longer response times- which they say are putting residents ‘at risk’

Chesterfield and Staveley firefighters were called out to a house fire.
Chesterfield and Staveley firefighters were called out to a house fire.

Derbyshire has lost almost one in eight of its firefighters since 2010, while crews are taking longer to respond to emergencies, say the Fire Brigades Union.

The Union has lambasted ‘appalling cuts’ to fire services across the country, which it says are putting public safety ‘at risk’.

In the Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, the number of full-time equivalent firefighters fell from 633 in 2010 to 555 in 2018 - a drop of 12 per cent, figures have shown.

At the same time, crews took a ‘full two minutes longer to respond to callouts’ in the 12 months to March 2018 than in the same period in 2010 - a 24 per cent increase, bringing the total response time to 10 minutes 24 seconds.

The figures refer to primary incidents, which are the most serious fires with potential to harm people or cause damage to property.

But Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service say reduction in staff corresponds with a 25 per cent cut in funding to the service.

“We have had to make some very difficult decisions in our efforts to maintain fire cover to the best possible level with much less money to do so,” saod Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer and chief executive, Terry McDermott.

“Our strategy has been to maintain the number of fire stations we have across the county and the city to ensure the best possible spread of geographical cover. This helps us maintain the best attendance times that we can.

“However, to achieve this we have had to crew our stations differently and this has led to a reduction of ‘wholetime firefighters’ and increased reliance on ‘on call’ firefighters.

Over the same period, the service experienced a 50 per cent reduction in emergencies, said Mr McDermott.

“Some of our stations now experience very low levels of activity, one or two calls a week at the low end of the scale,” he added.

“This level of activity suits the ‘on call’ model with such stations costing on average approximately £120,000 a year to run, whilst our busiest stations, which we crew on a full-time basis, attend roughly two or three calls every 24 hours at a cost of around £1m per annum.

“In regard to the increase in response times, this is something we are aware of and will be looking into in more detail.

“On the face of it some of the delays will be attributed to the wider use of on-call staffing but some will also be linked to our call handling times.

“We now have better technology allowing us to introduce new performance measures so we can track where the delays are appearing, we will be using these measures to drive improvement.”

The Home Office said local factors could affect response times, and that there is not a straightforward link between response times and the outcomes of a fire.

But Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said there was a clear link between slower response times and government cuts.

“Year on year we are seeing appalling cuts to the service and these figures are clear evidence that the cuts have gone too far,” he said.

“Understaffed fire stations across the country struggle to provide a 24-hour service to their community, with the starkest effect outside of cities.

“Fire and rescue services are expected to do more with less and it is only down to the dedication of fire and rescue staff that the service is performing at all.

“The service is at breaking point. Public safety is being put at risk.”

Response times in Derbyshire are slower than the England average, which last year stood at 8 mins 45 secs.

The Fire Authority will meet on February 14 to consider its budget and precept.