Fire chiefs are proposing to replace one of Melton’s fire engines with a smaller ‘tactical response vehicle’ as part of a wider money saving strategy set to go out to public consultation.
Other cost-cutting proposals outlined in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Combined Fire Authority’s integrated risk management plan (2016-20) include closing two of its 20 stations, Central and Kibworth, removing fire engines from some stations and, in some parts of the county, including Melton, replacing traditional engines with tactical response vehicles.
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 or ‘on call’ 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 and that by 2019/20 it could have a £1.3m budgeted ‘funding gap’.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s chief executive and chief fire and rescue officer Richard Chandler said he ‘wouldn’t want to accept money from elsewhere’, such as local councils, to help plug the funding gap because he felt it was ‘really important that the organisation is self sufficient.’
He explained other keys aims of the ‘modernisation strategy’ were to ‘make the service fit for the next 20 years’ and to ‘improve the balance of cover, matched to risk, across the county.’
He said: “We need to respond to changing requirements. We’ve seen a 42 per cent reduction in the amount of emergencies we’ve attended in the last 10 years. The nature of firefighters’ work is changing. There are far fewer building fires and we’re dealing with a lot more road traffic collisions. We rescued 194 people from collisions last year.”
Mr Chandler claimed the authority’s proposed changes will result in an improved ability to reach ‘life-critical’ incidents in the county within 10 minutes and other incidents within 20 minutes.
He stressed: “Our immediate response to every emergency will continue and there will be improved coverage in more risk areas.”
In respect of the use of smaller tactical response vehicles, such as the one proposed for Melton, he added: “These appliances can attend incidents in a shorter time than traditional fire engines and we can utilise technology so we need less staff to rely upon.
“The cost of a new fire engine is about £260,000. One of these tactical response vehicles would cost £30,000 to £50,000 so it’s a considerable saving.”
His deputy, Steve Lunn, said: “I think the changes will be positive for Melton. 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.”
He added: “I don’t think Melton’s future growth will impact greatly on the number of calls we receive. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a 42 per cent reduction in emergencies across Leicestershire and Rutland and that has been amidst a fairly significant amount of growth.”
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.