News release text
Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority’s annual safety plan aims to balance the need to provide a comprehensive emergency service for the county, alongside a continuing decrease in fires (70% over the last ten years) and the requirement to make budget savings over the next three years.
Once the proposals have committee approval on 5 November, the plan will formally go out for public consultation from November to January*.
Nick Chard, Chairman of Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority, which oversees the way Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) is run, said: “Our challenge is to continue to deliver a first class service as cost effectively as possible. The community safety work we have done over the years has paid dividends and we have seen a huge reduction in fires and other incidents. Alongside that, advances in technology, excellent firefighter training and modernised ways of working are allowing us to work smarter. I look forward to a good engagement with local people and staff during the consultation period from November to January, and would urge everyone to take part.”
Ann Millington, Chief Executive of KFRS said: “The county is changing fast and we have to do the same. In previous years, we made sure we have stations in the right location for modern day needs. Now we are looking at how we can work differently in ways that will maintain emergency cover but also help us make essential savings of £10million over the next three years.
Proposals include improving emergency cover by increasing the hours day-crewed firefighters respond immediately from their station by 35 hours a week and improving the availability of our on-call engines.”
Outcomes from last year’s safety plan:
The first new fire station in 20 years is about to open in Ash-cum-Ridley, and work is ready to start on two more at Rochester and Medway (Watling Street), with a fourth in Ramsgate.
Calls to false automatic fire alarms have been slashed so on hundreds of occasions since the change of policy, fire engines have been available to go to genuine emergencies rather than false automatic alarms.
Automating and simplifying systems has meant we have been able to reduce non-frontline staff by 45 through retirements and not filling vacancies.
We have recruited 80 new firefighters to work part time at our on-call stations and there are more in the pipeline.
Proposals from this year’s safety plan:
We want to improve fire cover in the evenings and weekends by increasing the hours that day-crewed firefighters respond immediately from their station by an extra 35 hours a week. This means an immediate response from the station for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Hours will match the times when there is the highest level of incidents in their area**. To do this we need to alter crewing arrangements. As with the current system, outside these hours they will respond on an on-call basis.
We are also proposing a change that will improve on-call fire cover across the county and have more on-call engines available to work. The vast majority of fires are small incidents so rather than remove the station from duty and leave a gap when three on-call firefighters are available, we may in some circumstances crew with three rather than four. Safety will always be a top priority, and there will always be an incident commander, two qualified breathing apparatus wearers, and a driver. However in some cases one person has more than one of these skills. When extra support is needed, it will be sent immediately.
We do not need seven firefighters to crew a full-time fire engine. However the system of seven per full-time watch was set up historically to deal with covering training, holidays and sickness. Now, thanks to a huge drop in incidents, revisions to leave arrangements and new ways of training e.g. whole crews training together, we don’t need that system anymore. This means we can make significant savings with no reduction in emergency cover, by taking the seventh firefighter out of each full-time watch.
We hope to make these changes over the next few years through normal staff turnover such as retirement, avoiding compulsory redundancy wherever possible.
We have looked in detail at the types of incidents we attend and at what we need to be able to do. As a result, we propose:
Continuing to buy smaller fire engines that are cheaper, and can deal effectively with smaller fires which make up a large proportion of the incidents we are called to. These are actual fire engines rather than vans.
We currently have five height vehicles which require maintenance and specialist staff training. They are not intended for rescues (two fire rescues since 2006) and as incidents continue to fall and new technology offers different ways of dealing with fires, we feel we no longer need five. We are proposing reducing the number from five to three to be based at Maidstone, Ashford and Canterbury.
The resilience engine at Watling Street was put there in 2011 as a back-up to the two full time engines in the area. However, following the reduction in incidents (and especially the dramatic fall in false alarms from automatic systems), this engine is now used less than once a week, which is not enough to justify it being there.
Finally, after freezing Council Tax rises for three years, this year KFRS is asking local people if they are willing to pay an extra 3p a week per household***. This small increase will mean KFRS can carry out the necessary changes but still continue to maintain its excellent level of emergency cover in the county.