Monday, 21 August 2017

Fire chiefs put shared weekend cover to test

NO firefighters are on duty in Henley on every other weekend, it has been revealed.

NO firefighters are on duty in Henley on every other weekend, it has been revealed.

A trial has been launched in which the town’s fire station in West Street pools its resources with the station in Wargrave.

This means that on alternate weekends the crews in Wargrave are also responsible for covering Henley while the town’s station lies empty and vice-versa.

Oxfordshire and Berkshire’s fire services combined to launch the three-month trial last month but did not tell Henley Town Council.

Now Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak has demanded an explanation.

He said he was particularly concerned as both stations are struggling to recruit enough on-call firefighters.

He said: “They have assured us it is safe but the problem, as I understand it, is that Wargrave has even more difficulty than Henley in manning crews.

“When Wargrave are on duty, Henley might have to have cover from Reading, Wallingford or Maidenhead, which of course is a longer journey.

“I think we should have been made aware of this so we could at least have known it was coming and put together our thoughts on it

“The trial has been under way for some time and I also want to know on what basis it will be judged a success or not.”

This week, Henley town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith wrote to the Oxfordshire fire and rescue service asking for more information.

John Nixon, the area’s fire risk manager, replied, saying the joint cover reflected a more efficient use of resources.

He said the trial had proved that Wargrave’s crews could reach Henley and vice versa within an acceptable time.

Henley fire station only has two supervising officers and its crews cannot respond to an incident if neither is available.

Before the trial, a back-up officer would be deployed from elsewhere, usually Wallingford, Goring or Watlington.

Wargrave has similar problems so officers would often be sent from other stations in Berkshire.

In addition, neither of Henley’s officers is contracted to work weekends but often does so to fill gaps in the service.

Mr Nixon said guaranteeing them every other weekend off would encourage them to continue working for the service. He said: “We believe that the trial is proving a success with both Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire’s residents benefiting enormously.

“In these austere times and with public service finances being evermore scrutinised, any means of improvement surely must be explored.

“We believe Henley residents can be more than satisfied with the both the level of commitment and the fire cover that Wargrave station is providing to them.

“A robust service is still being offered and we believe that this level will continue.”

Cllr Nimmo Smith said Mr Nixon had offered to discuss the changes with the town council in person.

The Mayor said: “We welcome the offer for him to come and talk to us at the earliest opportunity.”

A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for the county’s fire service, said: “Pairing these two stations, despite them being across a fire service border, is potentially more beneficial than them covering only their county areas and relying on stations in their own fire service for cover as they are so close together.

“The arrangement means that the crews can now plan ahead to manage staff availability and time off across the two stations.

“We have always worked flexibly and closely across borders to ensure our communities receive good services.

“The difference now is that we have formalised and structured this particular arrangement for the trial period, so that the outcomes can be effectively assessed.”

* Anyone aged over 17 years and 10 months and of a reasonable fitness level can apply to become an on-call firefighter. For more information, call 0800 587 0870 or visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/firecareers

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