Councillors refused to reverse plans to cut fire crews from five to four – prompting calls of “shame on you” from firefighters.

Labour county councillor Joshua Bennett-Lovell  asked the meeting of the full Hertfordshire County Council on Tuesday (July 16) to reconsider the plans.

He also asked for the county council to oppose “the further casualisation of firefighter contracts” without agreement from the Fire Brigades Union.

And he asked the council to look again at the plans to trial the use of a ‘rapid response vehicle’ at Watford Fire Station.

But at the meeting – which was attended by more than 20 firefighters – the full council voted against the motion.

And that prompted calls of “you should be ashamed of yourselves” from the 20 firefighters, who attended the meeting with FBU officials.

The county council’s plans to reduce crew size and to trial alternative vehicles are included in the council’s revised Integrated Risk Management Plan.

This plan says the vast majority of appliances in the county are already crewed with a maximum of four, which is “appropriate and cost effective”.

And it suggests that reducing the size of crews may even improve cover in some areas of the county.

Presenting the motion, Cllr Bennett-Lovell said most of the public were against reducing crew sizes – pointing to the 59 per cent who disagreed with it as part of the consultation.

And highlighting an increase in incidents and fire injuries, he said there were not enough firefighters to cope with current challenges – let alone the challenges of a growing and ageing county.

“There are situations right now where the emergency response requires more than four – and yet the future response would limit this number,” he said.

“There can be no justification for reducing the crewing of fire vehicles in the name of risk reduction.

“If the service wants the ability to deploy more firefighters the answer is very simple – employ more firefighters, ensure they are provided with good conditions so that they stay on the job for the long term.”

Acknowledging there were instances where a ‘rapid response vehicle’ could arrive at an incident more quickly, he said he was not against their use.

But he said was against them being used instead of a larger vehicle.

Cllr Bennett-Lovell pointed to the possibility of a three-strong crew on a ‘rapid response vehicle’ being asked to tackle a house fire – without the resources they needed.

But executive member for community safety and waste management Cllr Terry Hone spoke in favour of the changes.

He said that when Cllr Bennett-Lovell referred to the majority of people being against the changes, he was referring to just 70 people who responded.

And he said that it was in response to public concerns that they had agreed to keep the two traditional fire engines at Watford Fire Station during the trial of the ‘rapid response vehicle’.

He stressed that this was a trial – and it was the results of this trial that would then show whether it would work effectively and meet the needs of the fire service.

Cllr Hone said similar smaller vehicles were now preferred by some fire services, pointing to the benefits when traffic was heavy or there were narrow country lanes to navigate.

He said the smaller crew size of four firefighters was “tried and tested” and was “appropriate and cost-effective”.

But he said there would still be a minimum of nine firefighters at fires where there was a risk to life – even if that meant sending three appliances.

Watford Observer:

How county councillors voted

Liberal Democrat councillor John Hale said that while the plan was not perfect, it was fit for purpose and did set a way forward for the fire and rescue service.

He said: “The Liberal Democrat group, however, will continue to oppose any reductions in the funding to the fire and rescue service.

“We expect the administration to make it clear to their friends in government that the lack of adequate funding is threatening services.

“However the plan does set out how the service will manage its risks and the proposed trials provide an opportunity to determine if an alternative vehicle will provide a better service."

During the debate, Conservative Cllr Colin Woodward stressed that the plans were not about making cuts – but about making the service more effective for the future.

Following the meeting, chair of the Hertfordshire FBU Derek McLeod said: “Firefighters are concerned and unhappy at the proposals to reduce crew sizes from five to four – and the introduction of smaller vehicle types, which will be crewed with even fewer firefighters.

He said that while it has become common practice to crew with four, this reflects “austerity cuts” and a “shortfall” in firefighters.

And he says that during the debate firefighters had to listen to “ludicrous” suggestions that firefighters were “happy to crew with four”