News release text
Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority (KMFRA) has agreed its annual safety plan which includes an improvement in the availability of on-call engines and improved fire cover in the evenings and weekends by day-crewed firefighters.
In order to carry out the necessary changes but still continue to maintain a good level of emergency cover in the county, the Authority is increasing its share of Council Tax by just over 2p a week for a band D household. This 1.99% increase is the first increase in four years and amounts to £1.35 a year for a band D household to cover all KFRS services - less than the price of a litre of petrol.
Proposals given the go-ahead at today’s Authority meeting include improving emergency cover by increasing the hours day-crewed firefighters respond immediately from their station during weekdays and extending these arrangements to weekends as well.
KMFRA Chairman Nick Chard said: “We have seen a huge reduction in fires and other incidents but we recognise that there are still challenges to meet. Continued advancements in the technology and modernised ways of working means we can work smarter and deliver a first class service as effectively as possible.”
"After a four year freeze we are increasing Council Tax by 1.99 per cent which amounts to just over a 2p a week rise for the average household. This will allow us to carry out important modernisation of the service while still continuing to deliver an excellent level of emergency cover. I believe that £1.33 a week for a band D household is still good value for a round-the-clock emergency response to fires, floods, road traffic collisions and a range of other emergencies."
Ann Millington, Chief Executive of KFRS said: “We have made major changes over the past few years, ensuring that we have stations in the right location for modern day needs. But the county continues to change so we are also working differently in ways that will maintain emergency cover but also help us make essential savings.”
In the past year, KFRS’s first new fire station in 20 years opened in Ash-cum-Ridley, and it hopes to soon start work on two more at Rochester and Medway (Watling Street), with a fourth planned in Ramsgate. Other service improvements have included a major change to the automatic fire alarm policy which has seen the number of false alarms slashed and, on hundreds of occasions, fire engines have been available to go to genuine emergencies.
Recruitment for on-call firefighters continues (80 new frontline staff have already joined KFRS in the past year) and non-frontline staff have been reduced by 45 through automating and simplifying systems.
Background on the 2014 safety plan:
KFRS aims to improve fire cover in the evenings and weekends by increasing the hours that day-crewed firefighters respond immediately from their station during weekdays and weekends. This means an immediate response from the station for nine hours a day, seven days a week. Hours will match the times when there is the highest risk of incidents in their area*. To do this, crewing arrangements have been altered although, as with the previous system, outside of these hours they would have responded on an on-call basis.
On-call fire cover across the county will be improved and more on-call engines will be available to work by allowing, in some circumstances, crewing arrangements of three rather than four. The vast majority of fires are small incidents so rather than remove the station from duty and leave a gap when only three on-call firefighters are available, we may in some circumstances crew with this number. Safety will always be a top priority, and when extra support is needed, it will be sent immediately.
Crewing arrangements for full-time pumps have also been revised. The system of seven firefighters 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, that system is no longer needed. This means significant savings can be made 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.
KFRS has looked in detail at the types of incidents we attend and at what we need to be able to do. As a result, we will also:
Continue 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.
Reduce the number of height vehicles from five to three. These vehicles require maintenance and specialist staff training but they are not intended for rescues and, as incidents continue to fall and new technology offers different ways of dealing with fires, we feel we no longer need five. The three will be based at Maidstone, Ashford and Canterbury.
Remove the resilience engine at Watling Street. This appliance 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. Firefighters will be offered the chance to relocate to another station.
*Day crewed change of hours
New on-station times: 9am-7pm seven days a week, excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day. At other times firefighters respond on-call from home, as they do now. Current hours on station with immediate response: Monday - Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1pm. Some Sunday mornings, dependant on local arrangements. At other times firefighters respond on-call from home.
KFRS Council Tax has been frozen since April 2010. The current Band D Council Tax is £1.31 a week per household. KMFRA has agreed a Council Tax increase of 1.99%, resulting in an annual charge for a Band D property of just over 2p a week.
Council Tax Band - Annual Charge (£) per household
A - 46.20
B - 53.90
C - 61.60
D - 69.30
E - 84.70
F - 100.10
G - 115.50
H - 138.60