Bucks firefighters demonstrate in Milton Keynes over concerns linked to funding

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“We do not have the resources to meet the demands of our communities”

Firefighters in Buckinghamshire have demanded urgent investment in the county’s fire service, warning of the impacts on health and safety.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned that Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service had been “cut to the bone”.

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Scores of firefighters staged a rally outside a meeting of the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority at West Ashton Fire Station in Milton Keynes yesterday (6 December).

Mitch Wallace at yesterday's protest in Milton Keynes, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy ServiceMitch Wallace at yesterday's protest in Milton Keynes, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Service
Mitch Wallace at yesterday's protest in Milton Keynes, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Service

They urged the authority and new Chief Fire Officer Louise Harrison – three days into her job – to do what they can to secure immediate investment in the fire service.

The union’s demands come after it said it was “deeply concerned” over the appointment of Ms Harrison, whose background is in policing, and also follow a damning report that found Bucks Fire Service was “overly reliant” on neighbouring services.

“We do not have the resources to meet the demands of our communities,” Chris Wycherley, brigade secretary for the Buckinghamshire Fire Brigades Union told the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

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The firefighter said Bucks Fire Service was extremely poorly funded, with expenditure just £35.51 per person compared to the English average of £41.88, according to the FBU.

Chris Montague at yesterday's demonstrationChris Montague at yesterday's demonstration
Chris Montague at yesterday's demonstration

He said: “We are one of the lowest-funded brigades in the country on our precept. Our precept within the fire and rescue service is capped at two per cent.

“We just had news yesterday that that has been increased to three per cent, which is still nowhere near enough to address the years of underfunding that we have suffered.”

Lack of investment in the fire service puts the health of those on the front line at risk, firefighter Chris Montague, who has been in the Fire Service for 23 years, told the LDRS.

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He said: “When we have less resources available, it can take us longer to get to an incident, which then places our communities at greater risk.”

He added: “The fewer there are of us, we can end up taking greater risks and working with fewer resources, working harder for longer and exposing ourselves to the outcomes of incidents.”

Chris said toxins from cancer-causing elements can be released from fires and can enter into the skin and hair.

Firefighters are 1.6 times more likely to die from all cancers than the general population, according to a study by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) published earlier this year.

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The research also showed that firefighter mortality rates are significantly higher for specific types of cancer, including prostate, leukaemia and oesophageal.

Mitch Wallace, a Buckinghamshire firefighter of three-and-a-half years said the lack of funding for the fire service had a big impact on health and safety.

He said increased investment in the service would boost the aims of the FBU’s DECON campaign, which encourages firefighters to make simple changes to help to prevent cancer and other diseases.

Mitch told the LDRS: “An increase in funding would allow us to push for things like annual health monitoring for firefighters and adequate monitoring of exposures that firefighters may have.”

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Louise Harrison, Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive for Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service, said she “listened with interest” to the union’s thoughts on improvements that can be made during the Fire Authority’s meeting.

In a statement, she told the LDRS, that the health and wellbeing of employees, and the community ‘is very important to us’ and that firefighters have the ‘very best personal protection equipment available’.

She added: “I am disappointed in the Government’s decision that it will not allow fire and rescue authorities additional precept flexibility this coming year, which would have enabled us to raise council tax by £5.

“However, despite these funding pressures we will seek to make best use of the precept flexibility that is available to us.”