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of the British Broadcasting Corporation



Wednesday, 7 November 2007, 16:59 GMT
Debate under way on fire changes

Union leaders in Kent are preparing to fight changes proposed by the county's fire service.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has opposed plans which could see 43 posts closed, an engine lost in Folkestone, and fewer specialist height vehicles.

The fire service said it aimed to have "the right number of people, with the right skills and in the right places".

It has to save about £6m over three years because of expected cuts but will reinvest in stations and equipment.

An 11-week period of public consultation has begun on Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority's vision for how it should operate into the next decade.

Channel Tunnel risks

Chief fire officer Charlie Hendry said lower funding, housing and population growth, and a decreasing number of fires and other incidents were all being taken into account to see if the fire service could "use more of our resources to extend community safety work, without increasing risks".

But Harry Sawyer, from the Kent branch of the FBU, raised concerns, particularly over Folkestone potentially losing one of its three fire engines.

"We believe the area, with the additional risks of the Channel Tunnel, warrants the fire cover that it currently has," he said.

Taking a fire engine out of Folkestone would also lead to the loss of 24 firefighting posts.

We would not propose anything that would put people at risk
Fire service spokeswoman

A fire service spokeswoman said that would only happen through redeployment, voluntary redundancy or "natural wastage".

Nineteen job losses would also come in so-called "officer cover" countywide, because of fewer large-scale incidents where their attendance is required and a review of the technical fire safety section.

The FBU is also against a proposed reduction in the number of height vehicles - now used more for firefighting at height than rescues - from seven to five.

The fire service said that despite the cut there would be a 30-minute response time anywhere in Kent, but Mr Sawyer said having fewer height vehicles would only work if they were permanently crewed again.

He also accused the fire service of using "best-case scenario" figures - based on fewer fires, other incidents and casualties - to justify all the planned cuts.

But a spokeswoman argued: "We would not propose anything that would put people at risk.

"We have used very sophisticated software that can predict numbers of incidents, based on past figures and future population growth, and it's not showing that there would be an increase."