Budget cuts spark concern over quality of firefighting service

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A RECORD low number of fire service call-outs is under 
threat from Government-imposed budget cuts, according to one of the region’s chief fire officers.

New figures released by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue show that deaths and injuries from house fires, and incidents of arson, have both fallen again across the county over the past year.

Hoax calls have also fallen to record low levels, and total calls to the fire service are down by 23 per cent compared with figures from 2011/12.

But South Yorkshire’s chief fire officer, Jamie Courtney, said that – despite the drop in the number of call-outs – levels of fire cover across the county need to be maintained in the face of budget pressures.

He said: “These figures represent another excellent year’s work from our firefighters, community safety teams and partner agencies.

“We will strive to continue these improvements, but this level of performance is undoubtedly threatened by Government cuts to our budget.

“We know from our own statistics that fires typically rise during periods of economic hardship, and so any reduction in fire cover brought about by further funding cuts will make our job of 
keeping people safe much more difficult.”

The figures, released on Friday, show that the number of secondary arson attacks, such as grass, bin and rubbish fires, are down by a huge 55 per cent.

In 2011/12 there were 5,079 such fires, compared with 2,266 in 2012/13.

Primary arson – including house and car fires – reduced by 20 per cent, from 1,046 in 2011/12 to 843 last year.

The number of deaths or injuries resulting from house fires fell from 58 to 43, while the number of hoax calls dropped by almost half, from 78 to 40.

There was also a reduction in the number of so-called “primary” fires, which fell by 12 per cent from 2,335 in 2011/12 to 2,064 in 2012/13.

The total number of calls received by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue also fell by almost a quarter, from 38,029 in 2011/12 to 29,425 last year.

There was, however, a small rise of just one per cent in the number of accidental house fires, which rose from 618 in 2011/12 to 626 in 2012/13.

These figures have been revealed within South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s annual corporate performance report, which is set to go before the county’s fire authority at a meeting next Monday.

A spokesman for the fire service said that the service’s budget “will have reduced by £9.5m between 2011 and 2015, and it is likely that further funding reductions will be imposed upon fire and rescue services beyond 2015.”

Meanwhile, the cash-strapped fire service is still in the process of recruiting “contingency fire crew” which would tackle blazes in the event of a national strike by firefighters.

Last month, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue launched a recruitment drive for the contingency firefighters, who will be on a zero-hours contract but paid £10 per hour for training and £150 for any shift worked.

They will only be put to work if full-time firefighters from the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) take industrial action in a dispute with the Government centred on proposed changes to pensions for staff.

The fire service was seeking applicants with a “good level of physical fitness” for a “fire and rescue operative” role.

The advertisement also called for drivers and pump operators,

A spokesman for the service said that they “hope not to have to use our contingency team, and would only do so as a last resort”.

According to the fire service’s website, assessment days for the recruitment of the contingency fire crew have now taken place and “individuals are being contacted directly to arrange next steps in the process”.