Communities across West Sussex are being asked to back a new campaign that will keep their local fire crews working for them.
West Sussex County Council officially launched ‘Safer in Our Hands’ at a full County Council meeting today in response to plans by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner’s office to look at taking over West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (FRS).
The fire service is currently part of the County Council and sits at the heart of the authority’s Communities and Public Protection Directorate.
There was cross-party support for a notice of motion that stated: “This County Council recognises the benefits for our residents of the integration of the Fire and Rescue Service with other vital council services and its close working with partners. The service is democratically accountable and we believe that the model we are operating in West Sussex is the right one for our county and the communities we serve.
“The Council therefore encourages every member to promote this model for the service at every opportunity.
“It is always possible to improve democratic accountability and transparency and we will use this opportunity to build such improvements in to the model we have.”
As well as always being there for people in times of need, the service works directly with communities preventing fires and accidents, making them stronger, safer and more resilient.
Crews also work across towns and parishes in the county identifying older residents who are isolated so that they can get the support they need to stay independent. They work with Trading Standards to help address the growing problem of scams, provide schemes to help young people in times of trouble and step in to support communities to prevent problems like flooding.
They also carry out thousands of home fire safety checks every single year and visit hundreds of schools.
Launching the campaign, Council Leader Louise Goldsmith, said: “I’ve always been of the belief that if something is right, you have to fight for it. That is why I am really determined to do all I can to keep this excellent service, which provides so much to our residents in so many ways.
“Please support us and put your name to our petition.”
During the debate at Full Council, Sandra James, leader of the UKIP group at West Sussex County Council, said: “Our FRS is operating within serious cost constraints yet it must also operate within the backdrop of a county which is growing significantly in its population – an increase of 34,000 people within three years.”
“I am a member of the Police and Crime Panel and have listened to some real concerns at the last meeting notably that there were over 90 vacancies that had not been filled with the police in Sussex. I also listened to the fact that at the same time only five of the 19 PCSO slots in Crawley had been filled. That demonstrates that the PCC has got an awful lot on her plate already let alone being allowed loose elsewhere.”
James Walsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats group at West Sussex County Council, said: “The Fire and Rescue Service requires specialist training, equipment, command and control. The police have a specialist role and that role is growing. They have enough on their plate without trying to take on board the Fire and Rescue Service.”
“In terms of command, control and overseeing of the FRS we need full, open, democratic transparency and accountability to elected members which is not available to the police service. Although there is an elected police commissioner, they cannot be everywhere in East and West Sussex. We have 71 elected Councillors in the communities in West Sussex.”
Sue Mullins, leader of the Labour group at West Sussex County Council, said: “I have experience first-hand of some of the excellent, innovative projects West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are involved in within our communities.”
“Our Fire Service knows where every residents in need of extra support is in every road of the county. The advice, supply and installation of safety equipment is an on-going part of the service they offer.”
“We all take this service for granted certain it will be there in times of need but no one can appreciate how vital this service is until you really need it.”
“I would have thought the PCC would be far too busy sorting out tings in her own backyard to be looking at extending her kingdom into running an already functioning and embedded fire service.”
Andy Petch, leader of the Independent group at West Sussex County Council, said: “I am a firefighter so can speak about how it will affect people on the ground.”
“It is a huge U-turn on our localism agenda. We currently risk 200 years of building up specialist skills resulting in us being overseen by a specialist chief. Any changes would lead to a one-person fire authority which is something I don’t particularly agree with.”
“I would say that having PCCs in charge of the fire service is dangerous and ill-thought out. It is not supported by firefighters or communities or ourselves.”
Residents can show their support by:
- Signing an online petition here
- Filling in a form in September’s West Sussex Connections and returning it to the Council
For more information click here.