Plans to downgrade fire station could affect rural cover

Protestors outside the Ridge Fire Station, Hastings which could be under threat of closure.
Protestors outside the Ridge Fire Station, Hastings which could be under threat of closure.

FIREFIGHTING cover across Battle and the surrounding villages could be compromised if a plan to downgrade a back-up station in Hastings is given the go-ahead.

East Sussex Fire Authority wants to change The Ridge Fire Station in Hastings to a retained station, meaning the building will be unmanned for much of the time with an on-call crew.

Although there are no plans to downgrade or close Battle Fire Station, any change to The Ridge will have a knock-on effect.

One Hastings-based firefighter, who did not want to be named, said it could compromise the level of cover across rural Rother as crews could spend more time backing up their Hastings colleagues.

He said: “As attendance times to the north of Hastings will be slower, there is a higher likelihood of more involved, more devastating fires in that area.

“This could lead to stations such as Rye, Battle and Broad Oak spending more time backing up crews in Hastings rather than protecting their own communities.

“Conversely, many more involved fires in the Rye and Broad Oak areas would have historically had The Ridge as its first back up station.

“They could now effectively be waiting an extra five minutes for the next fire engines to arrive from Hastings for larger fires.”

At an East Sussex Fire Authority meeting yesterday (September 13), members recommended The Ridge fire station is downgraded to retained status.

This could mean the transfer of all full-time firefighters to the Bohemia Road station and, according to the Fire Brigade Union, impact on protecting lives and property.

A 12 week consultation period will now be carried out with the public and a final decision made at the next Fire Authority meeting on December 13.

The FBU has slammed the authority, claiming it has not been invited to any consultation on the plans.

Last November it set up a working party ready for involvement in the review.

The firefighter added: “As a firefighter, I am very concerned that these cuts will result in greater property damage, injury and potentially the loss of life.

“A fire doubles in size every minute it is left untackled, so waiting a further five minutes for a fire appliance to arrive is going to result in more serious fires.”

The FBU submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Fire Service.

This revealed around 1,900 households in the most socially deprived areas of Hastings would be significantly affected in terms of the response times.

Union spokesman Simon Herbert said: “These proposals which will increase attendance times and distances to the 1,900 properties will also put firefighters at greater risk, as they will be dealing with a far more serious and protracted incident when they finally arrive.

“The population of the Hastings area is expanding year on year, especially in the socially deprived areas and it is the opinion of the FBU that any proposal that would lead to a reduced service to the public,

“This is in terms of increased attendance times and distances which would put the public at greater risk.

“It is well documented that social deprivation and fire go hand in hand and therefore the most vulnerable in our society including the elderly, children and lowest paid will be put at the greatest risk if these planned proposals go ahead.”

Councillor Phil Scott, who sits on the Authority, said: “I have been made aware by the Fire Brigades Union locally in the last couple of days that they have not been part of the discussion at any time around a number of the proposals.

“I find that astounding and unacceptable that our best asset within the service, our front line firefighters and their representatives have been excluded from any of the dialogue with senior officers.

“I think it is clear that any review should have included the Fire Brigades Union Representatives which would assist with any future consultation process.”