Hundreds of firefighters could go and five stations could close under plans to massively scale back Essex Fire Service.

The fire service will need to make annual savings of around £7million every year up to 2020 unless it raises council tax.

Today plans to dramatically reshape the service over the next four years will be unveiled.

Fire chiefs admit that they do not need the 570 full-time firefighters they currently have.

There are ten options on the table for the Fire Authority to consider, with four of them proposing station closures.

The three options Essex Fire Service favours do not feature any closures.

The best case, which sets out £6.4million of annual savings, would see 138 full-time firefighter positions axed.

Adam Eckley, acting chief fire officer, said: “We have three preferred options, and some of them, while aggressive, will still achieve our performance standards.

“So are we taking money from taxpayers unnecessarily if we can still maintain the level of performance we are at currently while saving millions?

“Is that the best deal for hard-pressed taxpayers?”

In each of the ten options, the number of manned fire engines will drastically drop.

The shortfall will be made up with part-time retained firefighters, who are paged when there is an incident.

Fire chiefs said that the service needed to be modernised, with the number of incidents firefighters are called to dropping 50 per cent over the last ten years.

Two of the worst case options, which would save £10.3million and £13.6million respectively, would see Leigh, Great Baddow, Weeley, Old Harlow, and Wivenhove stations close.

In two other options, the axe would only fall on Great Baddow.

Mr Eckley added: “We are not putting forward any options that involve the closures of fire stations. That would be a decision of the Fire Authority whether they wanted to take any of the other options forward.”

In all of the ten options, performance standards, including how long it takes firefighters to respond to emergency calls, are only expected to drop by a few percentage points.

The cost of manning a fire engine throughout the day stands at £1million per year, while retained fire engines only cost £90,000 annually.

Next Wednesday , the Fire Authority will decide which of the options to take forward to a public consultation.

A final decision will be made in June.

Essex Fire Service commissioned consultants ORH Ltd to help with the proposals, at a cost of £14,500.

Unions - raise council tax?

UNIONS say that people should be asked whether they are willing to pay more in council tax to protect fire services.

It is understood that £3.5million would be generated from a council tax increase of just under two per cent, and that could help protect services to some degree.

However, without a tax increase, around £7million in savings need to be found per year.

Fire Brigades Union secretary Alan Chinn-Shaw said: “We are one of the few counties which maintains a two whole-time pump model, meaning two appliances show up at the same time within ten minutes, which is important because your chances of being rescued from fire after ten minutes dramatically decrease.

“In 2014, Essex made more rescues from fire than any other force in the country except London, and we think that is why.

“We believe the fire service should be protecting that gold standard model with the budget we’ve got, and I hope the public will be given the opportunity to say whether they would be willing to pay a small increase in their council tax of £1.20 a year for a Band D property to protect frontline fire services.”

Adam Eckley

 

Force needs to modernise

The chief fire officer for Essex said his force needs to modernise due to the number of major incident plummeting over the last decade.

Adam Eckley, Essex Fire Service's acting chief fire officer, said his team is well equipped to deal with cutbacks, which could see hundreds of full-time firefighter jobs axed.

It comes as the latest from the service show the number of call-outs has dropped by 50 per cent since 2004.

Prevention techniques, such as ensuring all homes have smoke alarms and offering advice to vulnerable people, appear to have worked.

Mr Eckley insists members of the public can expect the same service from firefighters when the changes come into force.

He said: “Yes, we don’t need the number of firefighters we currently have. Over a 24 hour period we attend on average 38 incidents, and 40 per cent of those are false alarms, and only one of those is a potentially life-threatening call.

“So, we have huge periods of inactivity and when you consider that we have 74 engines but we’ve only used 35 at any one time in the past few years, we have huge capacity in our system to meet future needs.

“The likelihood of the public needing the fire service for fires is very low. You are more likely to come in contact with us in a traffic accident or flooding.

“We can guarantee that if you call 999, we will send our nearest fire engine as quickly as possible and that won’t change.”

The force will plough an extra £3million into fire prevention techniques, which have played a major role in the steep decline in the number of incidents happening in Essex.

Mr Eckley added: This is not a cuts driven agenda. It is an opportunity to think about how a modern fire service works.

“We’ve got a good track record in prevention and protection and we’re going to invest in that area of the service because we know that will continue to save lives.”

Under the plans, four pinzgauer fire engines, equipped for off road use, will be taken out of Billericay, Manningtree, Burnham and Dunmow stations. They will be replaced by newer off-road vehicles across Essex, but the cost is unknown.

Dunmow will get a second fire engine instead.

Day crew fire engines, which are manned between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday, will be replaced by retained units at Dovercourt, South Woodham Ferrers, Great Baddow, Waltham Abbey, and Dunmow.