Ruth George MP submission to Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service – Fire Station Duty System Consultation
As Member of Parliament for High Peak, the level of emergency service cover across the constituency and the ability to respond to serious incidents both now and in the future is a key interest.
As such, I am very concerned at the proposed cuts to full-time firefighters at both Matlock and Glossop fire stations, but particularly to Glossop as it serves a wide area in the north-west tip of Derbyshire. This includes an expanding population of almost 40,000 people and key employment sites, including several chemical works, several of which pose significant fire risk.
- Nearest Fire Station assured cover is 30 minutes away
The nearest fire stations to Glossop in Derbyshire are:
- New Mills at 6.4 miles
- Chapel en le Frith at 8.7 miles
- Whaley Bridge at 12 miles
These are all on-call stations, currently seeking to recruit additional retained firefighters.
The closest station with full-time firefighters is at Buxton, 21 miles away and half an hour from Glossop, even on a blue light. In winter, roads in and out of Buxton are treacherous several times a year, and the road over Chunal into Glossop can also be hazardous.
In Tameside in Greater Manchester, the closest fire stations are:
- Stalybridge – 6.9 miles
- Hyde – 7.5 miles
The journey time from these stations is around 15 minutes on a blue light. However, the roads between Tameside and Glossop are some of the most congested in the north west, and it can frequently take over an hour to travel from Glossop to Stalybridge or Hyde. Even on a blue light, at rush hour it would take around 30 minutes. Planned roadworks over the next 2-3 years will make congestion even worse in the short term.
However, Derbyshire Fire & Rescue cannot necessarily count on support from Greater Manchester stations as they are often called to support incidents across the city.
With assured back-up at least 30 minutes away, it is vital that Glossop’s fire service provision can be guaranteed 24/7.
As such, I am very concerned that constant guaranteed cover is not an option in the consultation.
- Sufficient on-call firefighters cannot be recruited
The recruitment process for firefighters is lengthy, in-part due to the intense training program for those seeking selection. The consultation admits there are problems with the recruitment of on-call firefighters, yet all of the options proposed are to considerably increase on-call staff and to reduce full-time firefighters.
All fire stations in High Peak, including Glossop are currently seeking to recruit on-call staff for existing roles. Glossop fire station has had a large banner outside its station for years calling for recruits to Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Employment in Glossop is typically centred around small businesses rather than large businesses, and thus flexible terms of employment – which are vital to recruitment of on-call firefighters – are much less common in the Glossop area.
The proposal in all 3 options is to increase the number of on-call firefighters from 12 to 22.
How can Glossop Fire Station rely solely on service from an additional 10 on-call firefighters at evenings and weekends, if they cannot even fill the 12 current posts?
Please would you let me know the numbers of unfilled posts for on-call firefighters in:
- a) Glossop;
- b) Each of the other fire stations in High Peak
- Lack of Availability of on-call firefighters
On-call fire-fighters can specify when they are available for duty – the fire service do not have the power to enforce their availability. The consultation states that the current on-call staff are supposed to provide 24/7 cover at Glossop, but are only available 69% of the time.
All three proposals include leaving the Glossop fire station reliant on on-call fire-fighters during evenings and weekends.
More serious incidents occur at night than during the day. The second appliance at Glossop, used in addition to the first for more serious incidents, is required more at night than during the day. In the last year, 60% of call-outs for the second engine have been during the night (56% on average over the last 5 years.)
If it is difficult to crew one appliance from on-call firefighters, it will be almost impossible to crew two appliances. The second appliance was called out 22 times at night in the last year.
How can the Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service guarantee the availability of sufficient retained firefighters to crew one engine or two engines at nights and weekends?
I would appreciate details on how many weekends in the last 6 months there were sufficient on-call firefighters available at Glossop throughout the weekend to crew the second appliance?
- Increased Response Times
The consultation claims that response times will only increase from the 10 minutes 38 seconds for the current full-time service to 13 minutes 20 seconds for the on-call service.
How will these response times be affected by:
- a) Inability to recruit sufficient on-call firefighters
- b) Lack of availability of on-call firefighters
- c) Travel time to back-up stations?
Glossop is surrounded by a vast moorland area, and fires which are started in the summer can spread rapidly. Inevitably, these incidents are time consuming and require a larger number of staff to be deployed, which leaves the station with a depleted level of staff. How does Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service plan to cope with these incidents under their proposals?
How can the Fire Service guarantee adequate response times in Glossopdale at times when there is no cover from full-time firefighters?
- Longest Road Tunnel in UK to be nearest to Glossop Fire Station
The proposals for the Woodhead road tunnel, described by the Department for Transport in 2016 as “the most ambitious road scheme undertaken in the UK in more than five decades”, would result in a tunnelled section ranging between 12 – 19 miles.
The recommendation from Transport for the North in December 2017 was for a shorter tunnel, but still in excess of 5 miles, with a shorter timespan for completion.
Final proposals are being drawn together by Highways England with Peak District National Park, but all scenarios are for by far the longest tunnel in the UK and one of the longest in Europe, constituting a major national hazard in terms of both RTAs and fire risk.
Glossop will be the fire station situated nearest to the western entrance to this tunnel.
How does Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service propose to provide the necessary cover to the proposed Woodhead Tunnel on a 24/7 basis?
I hope that these points will be given full consideration in the consultation.
I would be grateful for responses to the questions posed in my response and for a meeting with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue to discuss this issue further.
Ruth George MP
Member of Parliament for High Peak