Fire service bosses have hit back at claims that proposals to replace one of Melton’s fire engines with a smaller ‘tactical response vehicle’ (TRV) could put people in danger.
Leicestershire Fire Brigade Union (FBU) spokesman Graham Vaux has questioned the capabilities of a TRV compared to a traditional fire engine, claiming the TRVs ‘won’t be able to do anything when they show up’ and ‘won’t be able to go into a property fire.’
But Steve Lunn, deputy chief fire and rescue officer and chief executive of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, responded: “We wouldn’t recommend anything that would compromise the safety of or raise the level of risk to the public or our firefighters. Why would we procure a vehicle that ‘wouldn’t be able to do anything when it turns up?’
“We don’t claim these vehicles will be able to deal with a full range of emergencies but a TRV will be equipped to deal with a huge range of incidents that don’t need the attendance of a fire engine and a full complement of firefighters.
“They’re equipped to deal with all small fires, such as bin fires, car fires, shed fires and grass fires, road traffic collisions and will provide many other services.
“We know that, on average, about 36 per cent of all incidents that Melton attends are false alarms. These are other sorts of incidents a TRV can attend and deal with.
“Out of all the calls that Melton receives we expect, on average, that 55 per cent of all incidents could be dealt with by a TRV. “The remaining 45 per cent would require the attendance of a TRV and fire engine, and possibly even a bigger response.”
Fire chiefs say other advantages a TRV would have over a conventional fire engine include the vehicles being able to attend incidents in a shorter time, the TRVs being less costly to procure (cost of TRV being £30,000 to £50,000 compared to about £260,000 for a new fire engine), less costly to staff (the TRV being trialled by Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service has a two crew capacity, a conventional fire engine has a minimum of four crew), the TRVs being more fuel efficient, and the vehicles being able to go off road as well as accessing smaller, more restricted areas.
Mr Lunn said: “The TRV is more flexible. Another advantage for Melton if it got a TRV is that it would be available 100 per cent of the time whereas Melton’s second fire engine is only available for 83 per cent of the time. On 17 per cent of occasions it isn’t available because there aren’t enough crew members to crew it. That in itself represents a significant benefit to Melton if it had a TRV.”
Mr Lunn also responded to FBU claims that the water pump on the TRV would ‘probably be equivalent to a pressure washer’ on the back of vehicle.
He said: “It’s not a car washer. It’s a purpose-designed piece of firefighting equipment. The water stream is akin to what you’d get out of a very high quality pressure washer. It’s a self contained unit with a petrol driven pump and a separate water tank feeding the pump.”
Mr Lunn said other equipment carried by a TRV would include battery-powered hydraulic rescue equipment, which he said was ‘as powerful as anything we carry on a fire engine.’
He said other equipment it would carry would include access equipment to get into buildings, trauma and casualty care equipment, breathing apparatus, water rescue equipment, personal protective equipment, a lightweight portable ladder and scene safety equipment.
He added: “There are some limited capabilities but if a TRV was driving around Melton and it came across a building fire they would be able to do lots of things without going into the building, such as getting a covering jet in place. It would be there for what we’d call the ‘first strike capability’ until the fire engine arrived.
“What we’re absolutely clear about is that a crew of two should not enter a building that’s on fire. We will always mobilise a main engine which may be accompanied by a TRV depending on the information we get.
“We will always mobilise an appropriate level of resources based upon the type of emergency and the risk it presents.”
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.
Richard Chandler, chief fire and rescue officer and chief executive of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, has 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.
If approved, the Combined Fire Authority will launch a public consultation on its integrated risk management plan from Friday (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.