Controversial plans to change the way the Island’s fire service operates have been recommended for deferral by Isle of Wight Councillors, with one noting how the proposals make him “nervous” in regards to safety.
The plans would see the shift system of firefighters on the Island change to ‘reduce the times when only one fire engine is available.’
According to the council, the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service currently has a minimum of five firefighters who are immediately available to crew a fire engine at both Newport and Ryde Fire Stations.
New proposals would still see five crew members allocated to a fire engine but when it is the only immediately available appliance. The council says ‘on occasion’ this number could be reduced to four.
However, at tonight’s (Tuesday) Scrutiny Meeting six councillors voted in favour of recommending putting the plans on hold for six weeks, citing safety concerns – with only three voting to recommend approval.
On one occasion, Councillor Michael Lilley pointed out that the amount of head shaking in the room made him “nervous” in regards to his safety.
He also said that he “doesn’t want unhappy firefighters because it could put his family at risk.”
Councillors called on members to wait for a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to be published.
Chair of the committee Councillor Andrew Garratt noted that if he was on the committee he “would not be comfortable making a decision” without seeing it first.
The inspectorate safety report is due to be published in six weeks time.
Speaking to Isle of Wight Radio, Fire Brigade Union Secretary for the Island, Spencer Cave, says he welcomes plans for a postponement because current proposals are unsafe:
“Five [firefighters] is a minimum number. The council have found a way around it and said yes we can do it with four but we don’t believe it’s safe. This isn’t just about the shift change. This about a safe amount of riders and we don’t have immediate back-up from anywhere else. On the mainland they can have another 10 fire engines come from a neighbouring county. It could be two to four hours before we have any assistance from Hampshire.”
However, Councillor Tig Outlaw, Cabinet member in charge of the fire service, has dismissed concerns regarding safety:
“When the service was inspected the inspectors gave an initial feedback to the team and alluded to the fact that the service is not efficient and effective as it should be. One of the reasons for that is that we’re not delivering the service that we need in terms of the time of the day.
“I don’t think it’s [the plans] unsafe. The senior officer (Howard Watts) told me that it’s safe to ride four riders on an appliance and I’ve also done the background information myself.”
The plans will now go before the Isle of Wight Council’s Cabinet at Ventnor Winter Gardens on Thursday (11) from 5pm.