Fire service to '˜concentrate on preventing serious incidents from occurring'

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service's strategy for the next four years is set to be scrutinised by councillors later this week.

The public are set to be consulted on a plan for the fire and rescue service over the next four years from next month
The public are set to be consulted on a plan for the fire and rescue service over the next four years from next month

A six-week consultation on the draft Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP), which will drive all future planning for the service, is set to start next month.

But the document will first be scrutinised by West Sussex County Council’s Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee on Friday morning (March 16), with the item webcast online.

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Andrew Barrett-Miles, chairman of the committee, said: “This committee plays an important role in looking in scrutinising the work and performance standards of our fire and rescue service.

“This meeting will be important in looking in detail at the draft IRMP. I would also encourage people to take part in the public consultation when it starts as this will help us shape our service.”

The plan sets out the structure, staff and resources of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the risks in the county, response standards, collaboration, challenges, and strategic aims.

The last IRMP was published in 2015. In the foreword, Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “This Integrated Risk Management Plan sets out how we will ensure the continuous improvement of your fire and rescue service, so that it is able to grasp every opportunity to improve the lives and safety of those who live, work, visit and travel in West Sussex.

“The service continues to face challenges including a continually evolving risk picture, new legislation and a national reform agenda.

“I remain confident that as an integral part of the county council, the service will continue to deliver a high class prevention, protection and response service to the communities of West Sussex, in addition to adding true ‘social value’ through close working with other key county council services.”

The county council has been hit with rising costs and reduced central Government funding in the last few years.

As a result, the fire service has had to save more than £7million from 2011/12 to 2016/17, reducing its base operating budget by about 20 per cent. The plan states: “It is anticipated ongoing efficiencies and savings from all areas of the county council including the WSFRS over the period of this IRMP.”

In 2016/17 crews attended 8,842 incidents across West Sussex. While the volume of incidents has decreased over the last decade there are indications this decline is slowing.

Critical incidents are those most likely to involve a serious threat to life, structures or the environment and these make up around 18 per cent of the total in West Sussex.

In 2013/14 there were eight fire fatalities, the highest figure in nine years, compared to four in 2014/15, three in 2015/16 and four in 2016/17.

The plan describes how targeted prevention work is delivered by fire stations with direction from a specialist team, with data used to direct crews to specific areas and focus on the cause of the greatest number of incidents.

Meanwhile, on the roads, 483 people were killed or seriously injured in 2016.

The plan describes a focus on a multi-agency response, with one example being the work of the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership and the Safe Drive Stay Alive roadshow, which aims to deliver hard-hitting messages to students.

There are 25 fire stations across West Sussex, with 317 full-time equivalent wholetime staff, 235 retained and 96 support staff.

As of 2017 90 per cent of the staff are male, while just 10 per cent are female, with the vast majority being in support staff roles.

Meanwhile due to planned retirements the service could potentially lose 36 per cent of its wholetime operational staff by 2022, and the plan describes the need to find ‘ways to transfer and enhance that knowledge through development of coaching, mentoring, e-learning and realistic training activities’.

The service has a fleet of 35 fire engines and a range of specialist vehicles, including two aerial ladder platforms for rescues and working at height, three heavy rescue tenders for large and/or complicated rescues from vehicles and machinery, and a high volume pump.

The plan says: “Concentrating our efforts on preventing serious incidents from occurring, rather than having all our resources simply reacting to incidents when they do occur, is the approach that we believe will deliver the best service for the communities we serve.”

Combined blue light centres could help improve services and reduce costs and are being considered in Littlehampton, Broadbridge Heath and Burgess Hill.

Meanwhile two shared workshops with fire services in East Sussex and Surrey, alongside Sussex Police could be created at Crawley Down and Drayton near Chichester,

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