Claims the safety of the public and firefighters is at “significant risk” due to a control room merger have been strongly denied by fire chiefs.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has been overseeing 999 calls for West Sussex since the merger in December – and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is concerned staff cannot handle the sheer volume of calls.
The union has also branded the decision to bring East Sussex into the merger as “reckless”.
Richard Jones, the FBU’s South East executive council member, said there had been no increase in staff since the initial merger, with more than 9,000 extra 999 calls expected per year.
Mr Jones added: “This is blatantly unsafe and unsustainable. Surrey’s emergency fire control room is consistently understaffed and control staff were already desperately overstretched before the merger.
“We’re seeing fatigued staff break down in tears, with the immense pressure causing work-related sickness. The brigade is institutionally unprepared for this merger and it’s causing dangerous operational failures.”
Mr Jones said crews had been sent to 999 calls from the wrong locations and had been sent mobilisation alerts when they were unavailable, causing “significant delays in response times”.
The FBU has issued a safety-critical notice to Surrey.
While only an advisory document with no legal weight, the notice raises the union’s serious concerns around the safety of the current control room set-up.
But a spokesman said the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service ‘strongly refutes’ the FBU claims, adding that West Sussex and Surrey staff had been working together “to provide a more effective and efficient response to emergencies across both counties”.
He added: “There have been no reports of any delay to response times to any emergency as a result of the new ways of working.”
The spokesman also said there had been no reports of staff suffering stress-related illness as a result of excessive workloads.
He added: “Analysis of technical difficulties has shown that these have been ‘teething’ issues that have been quickly resolved or worked around, to mitigate any effect on the services.”
The decision to add East Sussex to the merger was made in a meeting behind closed doors last week.
Mr Jones said: “We should not be thinking about adding more pressure until Surrey addresses its under-staffing and operational failings. It’s dangerous for control staff, firefighters, and the public.”
By Karen Dunn (LDRS)