Response to queries from Daily Post

Posted 01/12/2012 14:10:36

In response to information received by the Daily Post ('999Cuts Put Lives at Risk' Saturday 1 December 2012 http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2012/12/01/north-wales-fire-staff-shortages-put-lives-at-risk-say-whistleblowers-55578-32342053/) Ruth Simmons, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said:

 

"North Wales Fire ands Rescue Service has avoided widespread recruitment of firefighters during this financial year whist firefighters have been at risk of compulsory redundancy.

 

"Nevertheless, some limited recruitment of firefighters has taken place this year, at Betws-y-Coed and Tywyn.

 

"The new rostering system which ensures that the optimum number of personnel ride the fire engine means that 22 fewer firefighters are required on day crewed and shift stations.

 

"Consequently these 22 full time firefighters have been available to provide cover elsewhere inNorth Wales. On Call (or RDS) firefighters, some of whom have lost their primary employment during these difficult economic times, have been able to provide additional cover recently, remunerated at the nationally agreed hourly rate for competent firefighters not on overtime rates.  On no occasions has this additional cover resulted in their home station being unavailable. During this period we have continued to respond to incidents promptly.

 

"The claims around staffing levels are not accurate. In response to natural RDS turnover, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service is launching a targeted recruitment campaign in January 2013.

 

"Readers of the Daily Post will be aware from previous articles in the publication that attracting people to the RDS firefighter role has been challenging for many years in North Wales and in fact across the UK.

 

"And so I would encourage applications from individuals that wish to serve their communities as firefighters. Details will be available on the website towards the end of December.

 

"The Fire  Authority  is currently consulting on projects for 2013- 2014 including how best to provide sustainable services to the communities of North Wales. Consultation closes on 7th January and I would urge readers to get involved in shaping the next three year financial strategy for 2014 and beyond."

 

Availability and Incident related issues

 

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS) has never been in the situation that it could not deal with any incident to which it would normally mobilise an appliance due to a crew non-availability issue.

 

Where NWFRS uses staff from Retained Duty System (RDS) stations to cover at other locations, they are either over and above what is required to keep their own appliance on the run or their own appliance is off the run with only one or two crew members available, therefore needing several other persons to put them back available. Where RDS staff members are used at other locations to cover they are always asked to confirm before leaving their own station if their movement would compromise the availability of their own appliance. If it would, they are not used to provide cover at another location. They are paid at the National Joint Council (which is made up from employer and employee representatives), agreed hourly rate of pay for a Fire fighter whether RDS or Whole Time (WDS).

 

Rhosneigr

 

NWFRS refutes categorically the information given to the Daily Post.

 

There is one incident on record (not a house fire as claimed) that a Holyhead appliance was mobilised to in September 2012 in the Rhosneigr station area. Rhosneigr's appliance was available and mobilised to this incident also.

This incident occurred well outside of the WDS shift time (12.00 to 22.00hrs) at Holyhead so there would have been no need to detach anyone into Holyhead to cover the shift.

 

Overall availability on 13/11/2012

 

NWFRS refutes categorically the information given to the Daily Post.

 

NWFRS deals with availability dynamically each and every day to provide the maximum numbers of appliances available. It needs to do this because of variances in RDS crew availability due to changes from projected cover caused by aspects such as normal and sudden changes in primary work patterns for RDS staff, sickness among RDS staff, RDS staff attending training, annual leave for RDS staff and overall numbers at station.  It supports this availability in many ways,  this includes the use of the Operational Resource Pool staff (those WDS staff available following review of rostering arrangements on whole time stations and not made redundant) WDS staff available over and above number required on WDS crews, available RDS staff from other stations and WDS day duty staff from departments.

 

On the day in question the maximum number of stations that would have been unavailable without any form of intervention was 17 for a period of two hours.

 

Following intervention the maximum number unavailable was 13 for a period of one hour. This was during one of the quietest times of day in terms of our call profile and activity over the 24 hour period. The average number of stations unavailable through the period was just over 5.

 

Flooding events of 27-11-2012

 

NWFRS refutes categorically the information given to the Daily Post.

 

The Water Rescue unit boat and crew from Betws Y Coed (a station that has recently had recruitment undertaken) was mobilised at 10.48 on the 27th November and attended many incidents in the St Asaph area during the day and late into the night working tirelessly alongside colleagues from NWFRS and boat units from the RNLI and RSPCA. Their activity at the floods included the rescues of persons and animals from flooded properties.

 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

 

We would refute in the strongest possible terms that we would compromise the safety of our staff through not providing the appropriate levels of safety equipment or measures for them.

 

NWFRS has a policy of providing the highest standards of PPE, and training in its use, possible to its staff to underpin its overall commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of all of its employees.

 

Each firefighter inNorth Walesis provided with a personally issued package of PPE -fire fighting tunic and trousers, helmet, boots, gloves and fire hoods that costs £1200 per person. Other specialist safety critical protective equipment such as breathing apparatus, chemical protection suits, line safety equipment and life jackets is additional to this.

 

Along with the other two other fire and rescue services inWales, it provides the latest technology in fire fighting kit designed, tested and approved to British and European standards.

 

Each firefighter has two sets of fire kit issued costing £470 per set with the service holding reserves of the kit itself as well as access to an all Wales stock in the event that both sets of kit issued to fire fighters are unserviceable at any one time.

 

This occurred during the floods this week with arrangements being made during the day and into the night both locally and with the providers of our total care service, to provide staff with safe clean, dry kit.

 

The kit is managed under a total care package which includes laundry, inspection and repair as needed by the manufactures to ensure the kit is able to provide the maximum safety protection to the wearer.

 

An integral part of the PPE for any firefighter are the gloves which are again designed, tested and approved to British and European Standards to provide both extensive protection from heat in fire situations and from cuts and penetration injuries in dealing with incidents such as Road Traffic Collisions (RTC's). Each and every fire fighter has two pairs of these gloves costing £37 per pair.

 

The Service applies standards above those recommended by the manufacturers in determining the serviceability of gloves and in the last twelve months has exchanged 212 pairs of gloves at cost of £7844. We do inspect every pair that is sent for exchange both to ensure that they actually do need replacing and monitor overall performance of gloves (as we do with other items of PPE) to ensure that the product we have selected for firefighter safety continues to be fit for purpose. We do not send unserviceable or unsafe gloves back to station; however we do not exchange gloves that are sent for replacement because simply they are dirty.

 

We are, as part of our on going commitment to firefighter safety and along with colleagues from the other two FRS inWales, currently evaluating and testing fire fighter gloves and boots available on the market to ensure we continue to provide the highest standard of PPE.

 

Other very recent examples of the services commitment to firefighter safety, despite increasing financial pressure, are

 

  • 21 new appliances replacing the service's older fleet with the latest technology and design to reduce risk to fire fighters and further improve their health, safety and well being. These appliances cost over £230,000 each. (completed 2012)

 

  • Service Wide Review of fire ground radio sets which resulted in the  complete replacement of the all radios in service and an increase in the numbers provided to enhance firefighter safety costing in total over £70,000 (Completed 2011)

 

  • Service Wide review of Breathing Apparatus (BA) communication equipment resulting in the provision of fully integrated communication sets meaning that every BA team can communicate clearly and safely with Officers outside of the risk area e.g. a burning building to further enhance and improve safety of our firefighters at a total cost of over £76,000. (Completed 2012)

 

  • On going Impact and Integrity testing by manufacturers of the helmets in use in the service proving their continued ability to provide maximum protection to firefighters.

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