SAVE OUR STATION CAMPAIGN: Firefighters to leave Ilfracombe station?
ILFRACOMBE will no longer have a manned fire station if Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) agrees a plan to save £5.5m over the next two years.
The Marlborough Road base will become a full-time retained station if the money saving proposals are given the green light.
Ilfracombe Fire Station is currently manned during the daytime but becomes a retained station overnight.
The move to a fully retained station is expected to save about £330,000.
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This week the Journal, together with members of the Fire Brigades Union, launched a campaign to oppose the changes.
An online petition on the Journal's website had already collected more than 150 signatures within 24 hours of its launch on Monday.
You can sign the petition at www.thisisnorthdevon.co.uk.
The proposed changes were announced at a press conference at DSFRS headquarters near Exeter last Thursday.
The meeting heard that of the 85 fire stations in Devon and Somerset, 17 retained stations responded to more calls than Ilfracombe last year.
The station currently employs nine full-time personnel who man the station between 9am and 6pm from Monday to Friday.
There are about 20 retained firefighters in Ilfracombe.
Fire service figures show that last year Ilfracombe firefighters were called to 153 incidents, excluding false alarms.
However, the daytime crew attend an average of just 46 incidents per year, meaning the majority of calls are at night.
DSFRS area commander Steve Widnell said: "The service has to save £5.5 million over the next two years and changing crewing arrangements at Ilfracombe is one of eleven other proposals to meet that funding gap.
"Ilfracombe has seen a 35 per cent reduction in all incidents over the last five years and our research shows that 17 of our existing on-call (retained) fire stations attend more incidents than Ilfracombe at a fraction of the cost.
"Introducing an on-call crewing system during the day would be a more efficient method of running the station and the firefighters released from the crews would be available for increased community safety activities, focusing on prevention, which we know will further improve public safety.
"None of the wholetime firefighters at the station would be made redundant and we would offer them other roles within the service."
Fire Brigades Union (FBU) representative Trevor French, who is also a full-time firefighter at Ilfracombe, said the cuts would result in an increased risk to the public.
He said: "Over the last three years we've done a huge amount of community safety work which has driven down the number of calls received in the town by 35 per cent.
"If you take that away, then the number of incidents will undoubtedly rise.
"Keeping this station manned is hugely important.
"Ilfracombe is an isolated community and all the surrounding fire stations are retained."
Mr French said the same proposals were rejected in 2008 for very good reasons.
He said: "Nothing has changed since then.
"In fact, there are proposals for even more houses and there will be more tourists visiting the town to see attractions like Verity.
"We will fight this as far as we can, not just for us but for the community we live in."
Dave Butterton, 36, who has been a member of the wholetime and retained fire crew at Ilfracombe for the past ten years, said the proposals could lead to dangerously low levels of fire cover in the town.
He said: "This proposal will put 1,854 households outside our ten minute emergency response time in the daytime.
"126 of these properties are classified as high risk.
"Without a daytime crew there will be no firefighting provision at all in the town during the week for more than ten per cent of the time.
"There was a fire appliance and crew available for emergency calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in 2012 and I want it to stay that way."
Mr Butterton also said it would have a big effect on firefighters who would be forced to work elsewhere.
He said: "Personally there is a lot of uncertainty as to what the firefighters will be doing if these proposals go ahead.
"The fire service has been very woolly with the details. We wouldn't know where we were going to be from one day to the next. Ilfracombe would lose a lot of very experienced firefighters."
Mike Creek, secretary of the Ilfracombe Trades Council, said the group would fight to save the service.
He said: "This is a major issue to Ilfracombe. The retained lads do a wonderful job but they can't provide the same swift service that a wholetime crew can, and that could mean the difference between life and death.
"Ilfracombe has a long history of large fires at hotels and with an increasing number of houses of multiple occupancy these cuts could have a terrible effect. We will support the Fire Brigades Union as much as we can."
A three to four month public consultation will begin after the proposals are put to the fire authority on Friday.
The Journal has submitted a letter of opposition to Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service which should be discussed at the meeting tomorrow.
The letter can be read below:
The North Devon Journal would like to officially state our plans to publicly oppose the proposals to turn Ilfracombe Fire Station into a retained station.
Having spent decades reporting on the many large and devastating fires which have torn through huge Victorian buildings in the town, we believe Ilfracombe needs a full-time manned day crew.
We believe a retained crew will not be able to respond to large blazes at the many hotels, blocks of flats and houses of multiple occupancy in Ilfracombe within a reasonable time and, as you know, these valuable minutes could mean the difference between life and death.
We believe no price can be placed on a human life.
This week we have mounted a campaign with Ilfracombe members of the Fire Brigades Union to oppose these plans. This campaign includes an online petition which has already collected more than 140 signatures in less than 24 hours.
We believe this sign of support speaks for itself.
The North Devon Journal
Rural areas must be taken into account, says North Devon MP Nick Harvey:
NORTH Devon MP Nick Harvey said he was disappointed by the proposals and would be lobbying the Government for changes to the fire funding system.
He said: "While Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue have received good settlements in the past, which reflected the rural nature of our area, their new grant does not seem to take into account the miles that they have to cover.
"I am lobbying the government to look again at how rural areas are funded so that the unique challenges we face are recognised and financially covered."
He added: "The fire service must ensure that community is protected and that people feel safe."