Lives will be put in jeopardy if ‘immensely concerning’ cuts are made to a town’s fire station.
That was the stark warning at a tense public meeting over the future of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
A consultation is being carried out into proposed changes to stations across the county that could see firefighter posts cut and smaller engines used in future.
And last night residents voiced their fears over plans in Emsworth to reduce the number of on-call firefighters available from 12 to eight and scrap the town’s traditional fire engine with a smaller ‘first response’ vehicle.
Emsworth watch manager Perry Dodgson warned the cuts would see only two firefighters being available at one time to tackle an emergency – and they would need back-up to enter a burning building.
Speaking at Emsworth Community Centre, Mr Dodgson said: ‘I am immensely concerned. It’s an added risk to the firefighting crews because they will be responding with two firefighters, with potentially reduced equipment and capability.
‘That reflects the concern about the inevitable risk to the public as well.’
Samantha Burgess, 26, of Copnor, Portsmouth, said a fire ripped through her grandfather’s second-floor flat earlier this year and a crew of two firefighters would not have saved him.
Tony Morris, 66, of Chichester, said: ‘We are putting firefighters in danger if we just send two out in a vehicle.
‘The fact we haven’t had a loss of life so far with these experimental vehicles is pure luck.’
Yet Hampshire group manager Kevin Evenett said it was ‘outdated’ to have only one fire truck dealing with an incident and the new vehicle would boast ‘new technology’.
He said the service is working with county crews to make vehicles tailor-made to their needs.
Concerns were raised about the impact the move would have on a growing West Sussex as Emsworth provides cover up to Bosham.
Councillor Sandra James, for the Bourne division, which borders Hampshire, said: ‘We are experiencing huge amounts of new housing in this area.’
A group of firefighters at the back of the meeting were applauded at the end.
The consultation runs until December 4.
Although a decision on the proposals is a matter for members of the Hampshire Fire Authority, the consultation may be of particular interest for West Sussex residents whose nearest fire station is in Hampshire.
For people living in Westbourne or Southbourne, a fire engine from Emsworth or Havant is often the first to arrive before a fire engine from Chichester, depending on availability and other operational commitments.
The link to the consultation can be found here
A spokesman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said: “West Sussex residents should be assured that we will continue to work closely with colleagues in Hampshire, supporting each other at operational incidents close to the county border and ensuring a speedy and appropriate risk-based response when needed.
“The operating model for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was agreed after a public consultation in 2014.
“There are no further changes planned at this time.”
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