Fears have been raised that proposals to replace one of Melton’s fire engines with a smaller ‘tactical response vehicle’ could put people in danger.
It’s understood the vehicles, which are proposed to replace engines at a number of stations, would still be able to pump water, extricate people from cars and carry breathing equipment.
Fire chiefs say the vehicles would be able to attend incidents in a shorter time than traditional fire engines.
But Leicestershire Fire Brigade Union spokesman Graham Vaux has questioned their capabilities compared to a traditional fire engine.
He said: “It’s probably just going to have a van with two firefighters on and what’s probably the equivalent to a pressure washer on the back of it. That’s not modernisation, that’s cuts.
“These vehicles won’t be able to do anything when they show up. People are going to have a van with two people on it and not even be able to go into a property fire. That’s dangerous.
“We don’t have any of these tactical response vehicles in Leicestershire. They’re untried and untested. Management don’t even know what equipment are going to be on the vehicles so how can they make the decision that it’s safe to replace a fire engine with one? They can’t.”
Steve Lunn, deputy chief fire and rescue officer and deputy chief executive of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service thinks the changes will be positive for Melton.
He said: “A fire engine is equipped to deal with all types of emergencies but the vast majority of incidents that Melton attend require a much lower level of crew provision and equipment.
“Instead of mobilising an engine with four to six crew on board, a tactical response vehicle would have a maximum of three people on it, capable of dealing with incidents from an automatic fire alarm to rescuing someone trapped in a vehicle. Based on the profile of incidents that Melton attends, we predict the tactical response vehicle will become the busier vehicle in Melton. It will be available for more of the time and it will be far quicker to mobilise from the station. It’s also more fuel efficient, wouldn’t cost as much to service and would have an improved environmental impact.”
Cost-cutting proposals announced by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Combined Fire Authority include replacing nine traditional fire engines, at stations across the county, with three new tactical response vehicles.
Other money saving proposals outlined in the authority’s integrated risk management plan (2016-20) include closing two of its 20 stations, Central and Kibworth, and removing fire engines from some stations.
The strategy proposes to have the same number of whole-time crews available but also mentions the potential for up to 88 redundancies, likely to affect predominantly retained firefighters.
The authority has outlined the financial pressures it is facing as a result of what it calls the ‘most substantial Government funding cuts ever experienced.’
It forecasts its total Government grant funding will reduce from £17.8m in 2013/14 and £14.6m in 2015/16 to just £9.1m in 2019/20.
Nick Rushton, chairman of the Combined Fire Authority, has ‘guaranteed’ that the public will still get the same level of service despite the proposed changes.
He added: “We’ve got to manage the budget. We can’t have a medium-term financial strategy with a hole of £2.5m to £3m in it at the end.
“We need to modernise. The chief fire and rescue officer, who wrote the report, is the expert. We’ve grilled him at length about this and he assures us this is the way forward for the future.”
Richard Chandler, chief fire and rescue officer and chief executive of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, claimed the authority’s proposed changes would result in an improved ability to reach ‘life-critical’ incidents in the county within 10 minutes and other incidents within 20 minutes.
He said: “Our immediate response to every emergency will continue and there will be improved coverage in more risk areas.”
He added: “Finance for the fire and rescue service is diminishing so therefore we have to make sure our provision is affordable. We also have to make sure that we deal with the safety of the public, and also the safety of our firefighters, through advanced technology, better planning, through use of more modern types of equipment and vehicles and also through education.
“We know through modelling and through statistics and planning that we’ve had from the past two years where our high risk and likely risk areas are so therefore we’re now matching our resources into those risk areas to make sure that our response is always proportionate across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.”
If approved, the Combined Fire Authority will launch a public consultation on its integrated risk management plan from September 25 to December 4. On February 10 the authority would then be asked to approve its final proposals/plan and approve the budget for 2016/17.
Members of the public will be able to submit their views in various ways, including in writing, over the phone or responding online. A number of public consultation events will also be held, with more details to be provided in due course.