Fire Service proposals would pose risk to life, says union

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In a strongly worded letter to Home Affairs Minister Len Norman which has been seen by the JEP, Tim Le Cocq, president of the Jersey Fire and Rescue Service Association, claims that while the changes are aimed at improving safety and the effectiveness of the brigade, they must not take precedence over the ‘actual and imminent risk to public and firefighter safety’ that they could create.

‘It is with regret that we find ourselves writing to you on this occasion, but the executive committee and membership of the Fire and Rescue Service Association feel it is imperative to object to proposed structural changes which would result in a permanent reduction in the number of frontline operational staff and put the safety of the public and firefighters at risk,’ the letter says.

However, Chief Fire Officer Paul Brown has described the letter as ‘premature’, saying that nothing has been decided, research into any possible changes is still taking place and that all firefighters will be fully consulted. He has also moved to reassure Islanders that neither he nor the minister will allow any possible changes to go ahead if they compromise safety.

In the letter, Mr Le Cocq claims that he understands emergency service bosses are considering cutting one firefighter from each of the four ten-person watches and said: ‘The JFRSA cannot emphasise enough that a cut to the immediate level of response is a risk to life.’ The letter continues by saying that the changes ‘will bring increased risk, increased response times and less efficient day-to-day working of the watches’.

Later in the letter, Mr Le Cocq adds that there has been a ‘significant lack’ of assessment of the service’s resources in recent years and has called on the government not to implement any changes until a full inspection has been carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

‘It is unfortunate that the anticipated inspection by HMICFRS has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but the JFRSA views this as an imperative contribution to understanding how effectively and efficiently the States of Jersey Fire Service performs, particularly in terms of resourcing to risk and how that is comparable to UK fire and rescue services,’ he said.

He adds: ‘On this basis, and in addition to our serious concerns in relation to the increased risk to public and firefighter safety, we strongly urge that the proposed changes to the frontline response of SJFRS are suspended to allow for the HMICFRS inspection to appraise the service’s current position and provide recommendations for improvements.’

Chief Fire Officer Paul Brown. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30748961)

Responding to the letter, Chief Fire Officer Paul Brown described the publication of the letter as ‘unfortunate’, adding that he would be meeting with the JFRSA early next month to try to better understand the organisation’s concerns.

‘We are planning to consult with firefighters about this and get their input. I am really keen to know their views about that but we have not done that yet – we have not even started a consultation yet,’ he said.

‘I have started a consultation through my project team with the JFRSA and I have had to confirm a rumour that a project is under way. But the project has not delivered anything, there is no fixed or detailed plan and no consultation has even started.

‘At the moment it is unfortunate that it has gone in this direction and I feel that it is a bit premature. On the back of the letter to the minister I will be meeting with the JFRSA with the director general for Justice and Home Affairs [Julian Blazeby] and the group director for public protection and law enforcement [Kate Briden] for an informal meeting about the content of the letter.’

Mr Brown later added that he would not suspend the project until an inspection was carried out but said that he was working to secure one.

‘An inspection happens and you get a report and it is all very extensive and takes quite a long time and clearly gives us things to work to, and their feedback is really important. But I cannot simply wait for an inspection to tell me what to do,’ he said. ‘I am the Chief Fire Officer and I have legal responsibility to have a safe and effective, efficient and economical Fire and Rescue Service and the minister has got responsibilities to provide a service.

‘Yes, HMICFRS is very important and, of course, we want to know what they think and we will be taking all of their advice on board when we can organise an inspection.

‘But until then my job is to continually, as the most senior professional firefighter in Jersey, push our profession forward and make sure that we are doing what we need to do in the way we need to do it when we need to do it.’

Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Len Norman said he fully supported the chief fire officer and the JFRSA with their continued efforts in shaping a service that ‘maintains the existing high standards already set’ and is best equipped to serve and protect Islanders, their property and their environment.

He added: ‘The JFRS is in the best position it has been for more than three years – at full capacity for whole-time firefighters, and needing to recruit only three more on-call firefighters. Any changes made to working arrangements for JFRS personnel will be carried out in consultation with the FRSA in due course.’

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