By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
A union boss has warned Nottinghamshire would be left with a “lesser fire service” under new plans to reduce fire crew cover in three stations to help save £2 million.
The major changes, proposed by Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service to reduce a budget deficit, would see West Bridgford Fire Station have no crew on duty at all at night, and both London Road and Stockhill losing one fire engine each.
However, the service is also proposing a reversal of its controversial 2018 decision to take away full-time crew cover at Ashfield Fire Station in favour of day shifts and on-call cover at night.
Instead, the fire service plans the return of 24-hour cover at the Kirkby-in-Ashfield station in a move hailed by local leaders as a “massive victory” for residents and public safety.
The changes will be discussed by local politicians who sit on the Nottinghamshire Fire Authority at a meeting on Friday (September 23).
The fire service says the changes are the “best option” for recouping a shortfall in its budget.
West Bridgford would be the area worst-hit by the changes, with the fire service planning a shift from 24-hour to solely day cover and no firefighters working through the night.
This is expected to increase average response times by 43 seconds at a station already significantly above the service’s eight-minute target.
Mark Stilwell, chair of the East Midlands FBU branch, believes the move will leave gaps in cover for all areas of the county and have a knock-on effect on communities.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The Ashfield decision is correct but should have been taken anyway because it’s fixing a mistake, but we can’t have stations put back at the cost of others.
“I don’t know how the fire service can justify a 43-second increase in response times in West Bridgford. This is just the first pump – with the second pumps you’re talking minutes rather than seconds for increased responses.
“This year already we’ve had some of the highest fire deaths for decades and, in Ashfield, there have been more fire deaths since the 2018 cuts.
“It’s a really stark picture, the fire service has already been cut to its bones and now this is picking the marrow from the middle of it.”
Ashfield would see its response times reduce by 48 seconds as it benefits from increased crewing at night.
The removal of second appliances at Stockhill and London Road, which cover Nottingham, are also forecast to increase response times in the city by 21 seconds on average.
Response times would also be increased by 10 seconds in Gedling and nine seconds in Broxtowe, while Mansfield would have a three-second improvement and Bassetlaw and Newark and Sherwood would be unaffected.
Overall, service-wide response times are expected to increase by an average of seven seconds, taking responses four seconds above the eight-minute target.
Mr Stilwell added: “There will be areas with no fire cover and other stations will have to move in, but then those communities will be left with nothing.
“Everybody gets affected by this, it’s a domino effect – it will leave a lesser fire service overall in Nottinghamshire.”
Ashfield’s return to 24-hour cover would reverse a decision described by Mr Stilwell earlier this year as “failing completely”.
Figures published earlier this year found on-call availability at the station was down to 88.9 per cent, having operated at 98.1 per cent availability when the 2018 changes were made.
And, in the most recent financial year, the station was also only able to provide two appliances about a fifth of the time.
Now, however, Mr Stilwell says West Bridgford could be left “feeling the same issues, but worse” if the changes go ahead.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service requested a fire service response to Mr Stilwell’s concerns, but the organisation said it did not wish to comment until after Friday’s meeting.
However, in reports prepared for the meeting, Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin said the plan to remove night shift cover from West Bridgford is mitigated by the Rushcliffe borough having the second-lowest number of incidents countywide.
He also says Rushcliffe has the fewest number of residents identified as “at risk” and needing fire service support, adding the proposed changes are the “best option” available in saving money.
He said: “It is not possible to save sufficient money from existing budgets without reducing the ridership.
“Due to the funding uncertainties and estimated budget shortfall, it is recommended that members [of the fire authority] support the option to save £2m from the station-based establishment.
“Any option that sees continued reductions in a highly regarded service … is likely to attract negative attention.
“It should also be noted that without the budget deficit being addressed with additional funds, further savings reports will be presented … in 2023 and 2024.”
Overall, the savings will see the number of fire appliances – the service’s term for engines – across the county reduced from 30 to 28.
The fire service is also forecasting an overall reduction in crew numbers by 44 posts to 312, although it says this will not lead to any redundancies because it will meet the figure by not filling vacant posts, among other measures.
The changes will be the subject of a 12-week public consultation from Monday, September 26, if approved by the fire authority.
Speaking on the potential Ashfield changes, Councillor Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), the leader of Ashfield District Council, welcomed the improvements in his area.
Cllr Zadrozny, a vocal critic of the 2018 changes who is now chair of the fire authority’s community safety committee, said: “This is a massive victory for the thousands of residents who signed my petitions.”
But Cllr Jonathan Wheeler, leader of the Conservative Group on the fire authority, has said the move will have a “devastating impact on residents in Rushcliffe”.