Monday, 23 October 2017

Firefighters are quitting ‘due to too much work’

A FIRE chief has defended a decision to have no firefighters on duty in Henley every other weekend.

A FIRE chief has defended a decision to have no firefighters on duty in Henley every other weekend.

John Nixon, Oxfordshire’s area fire risk manager, said the trial move was designed to prevent officers being overworked.

Speaking at a meeting of the town council, he said Henley fire station had experienced “massive problems” with understaffing over the past decade.

The station is manned by retained firefighters who work on a part-time basis and have another main job during the day but are on call.

There used to be 24 firefighters at the station but now there are 10, of whom only two are experienced enough to command a crew.

Mr Nixon said many had quit because their main employers would no longer allow them to have a second job.

He said those who remained were working well above their contracted hours to keep the station running and this was affecting their family lives.

He said staff turnover had increased with the average Henley firefighter now serving about five years instead of 18.

It takes about a year to train an officer to a basic level and about three or four before they are competent to supervise an incident.Earlier this year, Mr Nixon approached Berkshire Fire Service to ask if Henley could pool its resources with Wargrave, where the fire station was having similar staffing problems.

A three-month trial was launched on September 25 in which Wargrave’s crews cover Henley on alternate weekends and vice-versa. The trial ends on Christmas Day.

Oxfordshire and Berkshire’s fire services will review the results and decide whether to make the arrangement permanent.

They will assess its success based on response times and whether or not a competent crew could be sent to every incident.

Mr Nixon said trials had shown that a Wargrave fire crew could reach Henley in six-and-a-half minutes, six minutes faster than the response time from Wallingford or Goring, which are the nearest stations in Oxfordshire.

He told the council that the sharing arrangement could be scrapped if the staffing situation improved.

He said: “I wanted to ensure the longevity of our firefighters in Henley.

“We have tried and tried, and will keep trying, to recruit members of the local community. If I could get another four or five men who were willing to stay on, the situation would resolve itself. In a town of 11,000 people you wouldn’t think that would be difficult.

“If you can give me those five men, I can give you an on-call fire station.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann asked whether anybody had been consulted before the trial was launched.

Mr Nixon replied: “No external consultation was carried out because we needed to take action.

“With the situation being as it was, there was a danger of both Wargrave and Henley stations being unavailable on the same weekend.

“When they share resources, we can be sure that at least one will be available.

“I have to make operational decisions in the short-term to ensure that I can continue to deliver you a fire station.

“We are not looking to cut Henley in any shape or form. We want to build resilience there but we need help to do that.”

Mr Nixon promised to meet the council again in January to talk through the results of the trial.

∗ 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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