CAMPAIGNERS have launched a petition calling on West Sussex County Council to reverse £1.6m cuts to fire services.
In October last year county councillors voted in favour of the cuts, which has seen a second fire engine at Midhurst and Petworth removed and fewer firefighters across Bognor and Chichester.
Retired firefighter Tony Morris, from Chichester, initiated the petition. He said new figures show that for a second year running, West Sussex had the most fire deaths and injuries per head of population of any area in the south-east, including London.
However a spokesperson for West Sussex Fire and Rescue said the number of fatalities from fire in the county remains low and that changes to the service were ‘widely consulted on, scrutinised and debated in full’ by councillors.
On launching the new petition, Mr Morris said: “The most deaths and injuries for two years running confirms that county council assurances about the effects of their cuts are without foundation.
“They will no doubt make more lame excuses for these shocking government figures.”
Last year there were eight fatalities in the county as a result of fire. Statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that figure would translate to ten if the population of the county was one million, instead of approximately 800,000, putting West Sussex top of the list of fire deaths per population for the south-east. The 158 casualties per million population is also the highest.
A spokesperson from the fire service, however has accused Mr Morris of deliberately taking figures out of context and making ‘misleading claims’.
Former station officer Gary Towson said: “Whilst the latest statistics do show eight fire deaths last year they sadly often involve personal circumstances that make it difficult for us to achieve a more positive outcome.
“For example, two of the deaths were suicide and one is an ongoing murder investigation. Another involved a fatal car accident.
“The number of fire fatalities will fluctuate each year, but they remain low and continue to show a long-term downward trend.”
Mr Towson added that the changes were about adapting the service to meet future needs as well as necessary cost reductions.
The online petition, called ‘Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex’, calls on the county council to reverse the £1.6m cuts to the fire and rescue service.
It is being supported by the Fire Brigades Union.
West Sussex chairman Mick Cambers said: “Firefighters are still bitterly disappointed that the consultation process lacked transparency and included misleading information.
“The public have been denied the opportunity to make informed decisions about these cost driven cuts. We urge the public to call on the county council to stop these dangerous cuts by signing this e-petition.”
The petition is also supported by Labour county councillor Michael Jones and UKIP’s Mike Glennon.