Fire Service Review: Will Isle Of Wight Council Leaders Heed Safety Fears?

Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue (Archive Image)

The Isle of Wight’s Scrutiny Committee has warned against them, but controversial changes to the way the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service is run could get the go-ahead when the Isle of Wight Council’s Council cabinet meets later (Monday). Some firefighters say their ability to do their jobs will be compromised.

As Isle of Wight Radio reported, the matter was deferred at a meeting in February.

Earlier this year, we learned that response times for the Island’s fire service were below average. The local authority’s leader argued the review would improve that, as well as the overall levels of public safety.

Council Leader Dave Stewart

The council says it has talked to staff and representative bodies, including trade unions, about its plans. Under the review, peak-time permanent teams will be based in Newport, Ryde and Sandown (one extra station than currently served by full-time crew), which the council argues will make it easier to respond at times when (statistically) the most incidents happen.

But Isle of Wight Radio has been told that the changes will mean that cover at night could be compromised.

Some firefighters argue that the changes will mean smaller and fewer crews. They say key bits of kit require larger teams to use them. They say the review could see team numbers cut from 5 to 4, which means they will not safely be able to enter homes on fire.

Why do you need five people?

Firefighters say a team of five is split between a driver (who monitors hoses and water levels on the pump, while on scene); a commander (who oversees the incident); two firefighters (able to wear breathing apparatus (BA) and enter a property on fire); and a safety officer (who monitors the BA wearers’ oxygen levels and safety).

They say the role at risk is that of the person in charge of firefighter safety.

The Isle of Wight Council admits that shift patterns will be rearranged, but says it will better match the times identified as “peak demand” and argues that they are based on a presumption that five firefighters will ride on an engine but, if circumstances dictate, then a minimum of four will be used.

What does peak time mean?

Worried firefighters say that a smaller team means they will need to wait for the arrival of a second crew.

Although the Isle of Wight Council says the new model guarantees a minimum of 12 immediately-available firefighters, its figures are based on peak hours.

At night, outside of peak times, a full-time crew will rely on retained (part-time) firefighters, who take longer to respond.

Firefighters argue fires at night are more dangerous because people are asleep and are less likely to be able to get out of their homes safely.

There is also disagreement about how many people work for the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service.

Isle of Wight Council says if the plans are passed, its Cabinet member for community safety and public protection will monitor the changes and will present an impact report, six months after implementation. Firefighters opposed to the plans say that could be too late for those caught up in a fire outside of peak time.

Cabinet members will meet at County Hall at 5pm. Read the proposal for yourself here.