Fire

Towards real modernisation: in light of the recent end of the industrial dispute, and following last month's article from Sir Jeremy Beecham outlining the employers' vision for modernisation, here the FBU describes its vision for modernisation. (Modernisation).(Fire Brigades Union)

The Central tenet of the Government's approach is to achieve a better balance between fire prevention and fire cover. We fully support this but there are radically different ways of achieving this desirable outcome. For the Government, determined to restrict costs, this means cutting fire cover, particularly at night, and transferring the savings achieved into fire prevention work.

The FBU's argument is that you will only get improved results by increasing investment and that, if the main objective is to save lives and reduce injuries, you need to see prevention and intervention as complementary activities not alternatives competing for scarce resources. This approach involves maintaining national fire standards in some form and ensuring adequate fire cover 24 hours a day, every day. Remember that most fire deaths and rescues occur during the night shift. Against this background it is irresponsible to cut back on night cover.

For the FBU, modernisation means putting extra resources into community fire safety (CFS), into fire prevention legislation and its enforcement. You cannot get better fire safety on the cheap. But as the Pathfinder trials found, extra investment in fire cover and prevention now will more than pay for itself in future savings in property loss and NHS costs, plus the enormous bonus of lives saved.

Until now the Government's support for CFS has been puny. Less than one per cent of central Government funding to the Fire Service is allocated to CFS. And in some brigades the approach is little better than perfunctory. Indeed, it is often the initiative of individual firefighters and particular watches which drives the process forward.

In an attempt to justify radical changes to shift patterns, Bain suggested (without evidence) that CFS is a nine to five activity. He went on to argue (again without substantiation) that the FBU's overtime ban was holding back CFS work. But surely it is not beyond the wit of modern management to work out, in consultation with the workforce, ways of better integrating CFS work with fire cover responsibilities both in the early hours of the night shift and at weekends. …

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