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Safer Together - frequently asked questions

The following details recurring questions and comments received to date and will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Why might you need to close stations?

Most of our fire stations were built at least 50 years ago and are based on historical locations of where people lived at the time. If we were to start from scratch and rebuild our fire service with new fire stations and duty systems to meet today’s needs, it would undoubtedly look a lot different.


Some areas are really busy, whilst others have seen a very big reduction in incidents. Fifty six (including Lundy) of our fire station areas on average have fewer than 10 dwelling fires a year.*

107 of our fire appliances (more commonly known as fire engines) are crewed by On-call Firefighters who are not located at the fire station. They are required to remain within five minutes of the station and when there is an emergency they will go to the fire station to get changed and pick up the fire engine before proceeding. This is usually with a minimum of four firefighters. Our On-call firefighters do their very best to be available to respond to emergencies, however as we currently require four people to be available and this is not their full time employment it means that sometimes there are not enough people available for the fire engine to be used. This means that sometimes, although there is a fire station in your local area, it is not available for emergencies, therefore, the emergency will be attended by crew from a nearby station.

The geography of our area has changed and continues to change. With large new housing estates in areas such as Cranbrook near Exeter, Sherford in Plymouth and Taunton Garden Town bringing large population increases and changes, we need to respond to these changing risks.

Along with shifts in population, there have been huge changes in our road networks. In some areas we have challenges navigating our fire engines through narrow or congested streets and busy traffic to reach emergencies, whilst in other areas, the new road networks actually help us to reach locations faster than before. This means we need to consider where fire stations are located and whether in fact we can reach areas more quickly by relocating firefighters to different locations.

We need to match the resources (firefighters, equipment and fire engines) we have available to the risks. At the moment, due to historic reasons we may have two fire stations located in two very similar small towns with similar risks, but who offer a very different service, through different crewing models and fire engines. For example, in one town we may have a wholetime crew with one fire engine, and in another similar sized town there may be on-call crews with two fire engines. We need to even this out so we can provide similar resources in similar areas. 

We also need to make significant financial savings – our buildings, fleet and equipment all cost a considerable amount of money to maintain. Through our extensive analysis around current and future risk, we know that we may not need or be able to afford all of our historic buildings and vehicles.

*Data is a 5 year average taken from April 14 to March 19 inclusive.

 

What do the current crewing arrangements mean?

Wholetime – a station which has firefighters employed to work from a station 24/7. This will be made up of a number of firefighters who work in teams called a ‘watch’. There are two watches over a 24 hour period – a day watch and a night watch.


On-call (sometimes referred to as ‘retained’) - on-call is when firefighters are not employed all the time at their station, but they need to be within five minutes of their fire station during the times when they are on-call. They may live, or work (in other jobs), near the fire station and ‘turn out’ to the fire station when they get a call. Even though On-call Firefighters are not employed as firefighters full time, they are still fully qualified firefighters, just the same as other crew members.


Day-crewed – this is when stations are staffed by Wholetime Firefighters during the daytime only, (e.g. 9am until 6pm), and crewed by on-call staff at night.

 

Why are you changing shift patterns for firefighters?


Our wholetime duty system was introduced more than 40 years ago,( in 1977) and hasn’t changed since, our on-call model has also been the same model for decades.

Everything else has changed: from the uniforms we wear and the incidents we attend, to the technology and vehicles that we use. We do a great job recruiting on-call staff, but keeping hold of these colleagues is a challenge with more than 100 leaving each year. With the requirements for on-call staff to live and work within five minutes of a station it’s not surprising these staff find it difficult to work for us, often alongside their other jobs, and balance this with their lives outside of work.

We want to offer more flexible working to give more opportunities for employment to a wider group of potential applicants whilst retaining our current highly trained staff. We also need to make significant financial savings and by using flexible models we can employ less staff but still ensure we have the same amount of firefighters at an incident.

Why do you need to remove fire engines from my local area?

Fires and incidents have dramatically reduced, particularly in the last decade. Our fire appliance locations are historical and based on requirements for fire cover designed soon after the Second World War. We have spent a lot of time analysing data and modelling future risk in different areas across the two counties. We have found that 27 pumps attend fewer than one incident per week*. There are also other examples where we regularly do not have fire engines available to attend incidents because our on-call staff aren’t always available in every area. This is why we need to change to ensure we have the right engines and crew in the right places. 

*Data is a 5 year average taken from April 14 to March 19 inclusive.

How have you assessed the risks in each area?

We have been collecting and analysing data for many years and have used this to model current and future risk. We know there are certain factors that make people at greater risk of a fatal fire. For example, people aged over 85, those with mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, people who smoke, living alone, limited mobility and poor housekeeping are all factors that increase the risk of fatal fire. We have also assessed the size and demographics of each community, the mix of property types in each area, as well as the road networks and the risks that they bring.

What things are you putting in place to support communities to stay safe following a station closure?

Stations that are under threat of closure are in close proximity to another neighbouring fire station, and by calling 999 you will still have an immediate response from a local fire crew.

We are already carrying out a great deal of prevention work with individuals and within communities. We will be able to increase this support of at-risk groups and individuals to ensure our communities are as safe as possible. You are always able to access home fire safety advice over the phone from our community safety team, and if you (or a loved one) are a higher risk we will come and visit your home to carry out a full fire safety check.

In any area where we make changes we will make sure we send in our specialist prevention teams to work with the local community to help them reduce the risk of an incident occurring. In the meantime, if you need any advice in making your home or business safer call free now on 0800 05 02 999 or visit our website www.dsfire.gov.uk

 

Why is there a consultation? Will you actually listen to my opinions?

We are committed to involving our communities in designing our services and want to hear what everyone has to say. This means we are consulting our partners, stakeholders and communities to ask what they think about our proposed service options. We want to understand what is important to people and how they feel they may be impacted by any proposed changes to their fire service. All consultation responses on the proposed service options will be considered and incorporated into a consultation findings report which will be presented to the Fire Authority for their final decision in the autumn (2019). If you don’t take part, your opinion won’t be heard.

Why haven’t you decided on one option?

We have been working on a number of proposed service options and in June the Fire Authority will decide which options will be included in the public consultation process. If we only consulted on one option, we would not be conducting a meaningful and transparent consultation process.


How have you arrived at these options?

We use a variety of different methods and information sources going back several years, to help us understand the risks facing the communities of Devon and Somerset. By understanding where the risks are, we can develop our response model to best meet that risk. This isn’t necessarily where our firefighters and fire engines are located now, so this is why we need to change. In addition, we have carried out extensive staff engagement activities, involving over 500 operational firefighters, managers and support staff who helped us to design and have subsequently been given the opportunity to comment on these options.

What is the Fire Authority and what is their role?

The Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Authority is an independent body made up of 26 Councillors (we call them Members) appointed by Devon and Somerset County Councils, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council. The Authority is responsible for ensuring we carry out our statutory duties to protect the public. This means that the fire and rescue service is answerable for its actions and performance to the public. You can find out more about the Fire Authority here http://dsmodern/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

 

Why is my local station closing and not others?

No decisions have been made yet – we are purely providing recommendations for feedback as part of the consultation. If your local station has been recommended for closure, it is likely to be because it is in an area of low-risk or is located close to an alternative station and we will be able to reach you from other locations.

What will happen to firefighters from stations that are recommended for closure?


We will always look to provide alternative employment for our firefighters and those from stations recommended for closure will have the opportunity to relocate. If this does not suit their circumstances then we will offer alternatives of re-training or redundancy.

What is the process around the consultation?

There is a 12 week period of public consultation (3 July – 22 September 2019) during which we will be holding informal ‘drop in’ events across Devon and Somerset. We would welcome you to attend these. There, you will be able to find out more about the proposed changes and ask questions. You’ll be able to take part in the consultation either through completing a paper form, or by taking our online survey.

Once all the consultation responses have been gathered, these will then be analysed and a report will then be presented to the Fire Authority who will make the final decision on what will happen.

How can I ask a question about data or statistics in relation to the consultation?

 

If you have questions, you can come along to one of our consultation events, email us at safertogetherprogramme@dsfire.gov.uk, call us or write to us, or ask your question on social media. If you wish to submit a formal FOI request for information prior to the consultation closing you would need to do so no later than 22 August because of the legislative 20 working day deadline set by the FOI Act 2000.

 

When will all these changes happen?

We will begin to implement these changes from 2020 onwards.

I have been reading through the supporting evidence and note that Colyton Station has apparently attended 107.8 co-responder calls. Please could you explain how this is possible considering they are not a co-responder station?

The data shows the number of co-responder calls in Colyton's area but the attendances would have been from the nearest available co-responder station which in this case is Seaton.

Why don't you use Reserves instead of closing stations?

Reserves are pots of money used to fund significant one-off items or projects. These might include vehicles, new buildings, technology and money for unexpected events.

It’s important to recognise that once Reserves are spent, they are gone. If we spent them to prop up our day-to-day budget, we wouldn’t have any money to invest in the Service. Read more about Reserves

Savings Figures – ‘Revenue and Capital Savings – what are they based on?’


The Revenue figures relate to staff cost savings, premises maintenance and running costs, vehicle costs including ongoing running and maintenance costs for the appliances, and uniform and equipment costs.
The capital figures include a valuation of the station premises (where owned) and cost of appliances/engines and their equipment.

Risk reducing – ‘Whilst the DSFRS Safer Together consultation document states that the number of fires attended by the crews has fallen by a third in the last 10 years, statistics calculated through DSFRS systems show an overall increase of 8% in all fires since 2014/15’.


Our risk is reducing, which we see in the falling numbers of dwelling fires and fire fatalities over the long term. Dwelling fires (down 5% since 14/15) and other primary building fires (down 13%) are where we see the greatest risk to life and property.


Much of the overall 8% increase shown in the table was caused by a large number of secondary fires last summer, secondary fires are generally small fires which start in, and are confined to, outdoor locations, such as fires involving rubbish etc. We also saw a similar rise in the number of vehicle fires in the same period. Both are linked to the unusually hot June/July in 2018.


At a local level the numbers are small and so should be treated with caution as they are prone to fluctuations, but the number of dwelling fire fatalities is at a record low (4 in 18/19 beating the previous record low of 5 in 17/18).

Consultation Drop-In Exhibitions – ‘Just enquiring why the consultation events for proposed cuts in Devon and Somerset all seem to be during working hours? Are you trying to make it difficult for people to attend?’ – ‘Where is the formal meeting?’


We have run 27 drop-in exhibition events across Devon and Somerset. In terms of the timings and locations of the events, we had aimed the majority of the events at district areas using libraries as accessible known locations to hold the drop-in exhibitions. Working within the library opening hours, we have aimed to vary the times of the 4 hour exhibitions across the day, some finishing later into the afternoon/early evening. Similarly where the exhibitions were in venues local to station proposed for closure, we have worked with the availability for a 4 hour time period.


We have been trying to be available for as many groups as possible and for some, day times are easier, but appreciate it is difficult to meet the needs of all groups within the communities.

In reference to not holding formal meetings, the approach of the extended drop-in exhibition was to enable each person to ask a range of questions in a less formal format and have a fuller 1:1 conversations about the proposals than they might in a meeting, with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service officers, support staff and often Fire Authority members also. This added to by the flexibility of being able to drop-in at a time that suits.

Statistics - ‘Statistics provided are incomplete and misleading’


We have shared the statistics relating to incidents in each station area and this is detailed in the Fire Authority paper and Station Data.


The incident statistics show 5 year averages and those within 2018. For the 2018 figures they show all incidents (excluding co-responding) within the station area, and of those incidents, those that particular station attended, with further breakdown reflecting fires and RTCs.


The 5 year average information, is again within the station area and details a wider range of information including co-responding numbers, types of fires, false alarms, flooding etc.
There are a couple of points to note:


1. Firstly that we operate a dynamic mobilisation approach where we mobilise the nearest available fire engine irrespective of base station. This means that a station may attend an incident within its station area or may attend an incident in a nearby station area, and vice versa. To be impartial in reviewing risk across the Service, we have focused on incidents in each station area, and those attended by that station in their station area.
2. There has also been a further focus on statutory response, which is Fires and RTCs (Road Traffic Collisions) as this is the basis of Service funding.


For some stations, particularly station closures, we have shared the 2018 station area incident statistics on Infographics (available here). Some stations have shared all the times they have been mobilised, rather than the incidents in that station area and those they attended within that station area. Within our statistics we have not included when appliances are mobilised but are then turned back/stood down before reaching the incident. We have also not included where appliances are mobilised to be on standby (where we may have a large number of fire engines attending an incident and need cover) and then not required. If they did attend an incident whilst on standby we have included it.
We have also not included co-responding in our incident totals, a medical support service provided in 20 stations across the Service on a voluntary basis.

Availability – ‘It is claimed that appliances are frequently unavailable without defining ‘availability – is this related to manpower or due to breakdown or equipment failures’


With reference to the query relating to ‘Availability’ this generally relates to on-call firefighters being able to attend stations, rather than appliance breakdown or equipment failure (which we address through scheduled servicing and replacement vehicles where breakdowns occur).

Council Tax – ‘What are we paying our council tax for if this service is removed (particularly around station closures)’


In relation to community charges, residents of Devon and Somerset are directly precepted by the Fire & Rescue Authority for Council Tax and the same emergency response standards apply across both counties. There are many towns and villages that are of varying risk profiles, including higher, that do not have a fire station, therefore the same level of standard cover is being provided.

Savings across the whole organisation – ‘Why are you reducing front line staff and not addressing support/SHQ staff?


In terms of reducing support staff costs, this was planned as Phase 3 of our Service Delivery programme, the current proposals are Phase 2. Once we have gathered feedback through the consultation, developed proposals reflecting that feedback for review by the Fire Authority, and following any decisions made, carrying out implementation planning and early implementation stages of the new operating model, we will then start on Phase 3. The reason for ordering in this way is that it is only at that stage we will have a complete picture of what size and form of support staff we will need to support our new service provision going forward.

Climate Change – ‘Has this been included in the risk modelling – more moorland fires, flooding etc.‘ ‘The effect of continuing changes to our climate on the risk of a major fire on Dartmoor’


We continually review our service provision, and that is documented within our 4 yearly Integrated Risk Management Plan, which is available within our Consultation web area. Changes in climate and the risk response required as a result (such as wildfires or flooding support), along with other changes in risk across the two counties, are captured within that on an ongoing basis.

Where some stations have particular equipment (such as 4x4 vehicles, rescue boats etc), depending on the outcome of the proposals, we would look to ensure the provision was still available, although potentially from an alternative location.

Co-responding provision – ‘Not only are we at risk of losing a fire service but one must assume that the Co-Responders, who offer rapid response to life threatening medical emergencies, would also be removed. Its not uncommon for an ambulance to take 'hours' to get to arrive and to my mind, with the age range of our community, this service needs expanding rather than removing.’


Co-responding is not a statutory function for the Fire & Rescue Service and is a voluntary activity carried out on only 20 fire stations, the statutory obligation for attending medical incidents lies with the Ambulance Service.

Increased population – ‘Based on housing trajectory between 2018/19 and 2031/32 1450 new houses will be built….. we suggest it is reasonable to assume that 3,000+ more people will inevitably mean a higher demand for fire and rescue services over time’.


We have recognised these significant housing plans in a number of areas and we are expecting an increasing population right across the Service area. That said, our experience is that new builds pose less risk as they are built to modern building standards. As currently we will continue to review the risks in each area on an ongoing basis, remodelling the service provision accordingly, with this review work detailed in our 4 yearly Integrated Risk Management Plan.

Tourism – ‘In the summer months, the population increases bringing with it more risk of traffic and people accidents, fires, rescue and such like. How has this been considered?


We do consider tourism as part of our risk analysis. However it’s not the same as us having the same increase in resident population, there are several reasons for this including;


• Holiday accommodation is subject to regulations around smoke alarms etc. unlike a single private dwelling
• People on holiday are less likely to cook which is how more than half of dwelling fires start

In terms of the impact of additional traffic on the roads, RTC risk across the service does have a summer peak (in July). However this is just 20 incidents in the month across the whole of Devon & Somerset. The other consideration is where these traffic incidents may happen – visitors would be travelling through parts of Devon and Somerset and therefore the risk isn’t just at the holiday destination (reflecting support from a local fire station), it would be across our Service as a whole, supported by our network of stations.



‘As the crow flies’ – ‘I'm also concerned that distances to call outs have been measured 'as the crow flies' and not by measuring actual roads’


There seems to be a misconception that the distances shown on the Infographic were ‘As the Crow Flies’. This is not the case. All of the distances that have been quoted are the shortest road journey.


The travel distances are perhaps less important than the travel times provided, which are the shortest possible travel time. In this last case, a longer distance can be the shorter possible travel time.


As detailed on the Infographic provided at the drop-in exhibition, these times are indicative, as there are many factors involved in responding to an incident at different times of day, year, with different weather and road conditions etc. etc.
For those stations where distances between stations have been provided (mainly those proposed for closure) the above applies, that of them being the shortest road journey. What is equally, if not more important, is the travel time, making up the overall response time. These have been provided on the Infographics shared at these drop-in exhibitions and available on our website ‘Supporting Documents’.


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