West Sussex firefighters attended almost 400 more calls in 2017/18 than they did the year before, including more than 700 ‘critical’ fires.
In 2016-17 firefighters were called to 8,842 incidents, but between April 2017 and March 2018 this rose to 9,241 incidents - a four per cent increase.
Of these, 1,741 were categorised as critical, with 734 critical fires, and 1,007 serious non-fire calls, such as traffic accidents.
Crews also attended 232 incidents outside West Sussex, mainly in East Sussex and Surrey.
When it came to response times in 2017/18, the service fell just short of its target.
However, with engines arriving in an average of less than nine minutes, the response time was described as ‘excellent’ in the fire service’s report entitled the ‘Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for 2018-2022’.
Despite this quick response, in the report the fire service said it wishes ‘to improve in this area by reviewing our emergency response standards’.
“We will also be reviewing our crewing systems to make the most efficient use of our resources with the expectation that this will allow more fire engines to be available at the times we experience peak demand,” it states.
The statistics were revealed at a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s environment, communities and fire select committee on Friday (September 21).
During the meeting the fire service laid out the fire service’s action plan for the next four years, detailing its priorities in areas such as people, response, prevention and value for money.
Chief fire officer Gavin Watts told the meeting: “We are trying to be realistic in terms of what we can achieve.”
Cuts in crew numbers
The plan was put out to public consultation in April, but it attracted fewer than 300 responses.
One of the concerns raised by those who did respond was the decision to make a crew of four the standard for each engine, rather than five.
At the committee meeting, there were further concerns from some members that this could even drop to three.
Deputy chief fire officer Neil Stocker told the meeting: “We used to crew retained fire engines with three. We went away from that, a decision was made some years ago not to do that because of the equipment based on the modern fire engine.”
While it was acknowledged that a crew of three had been sent to an incident at least once, members were told that there would be a full consultation if the possibility of regularly crewing with three was ever placed on the table.
Desperate need for on-call firefighters
Another concern centred around problems with recruiting on-call firefighters – formerly known as retained firefighters.
With numbers declining, the stations most in need of new blood are: Storrington, Partridge Green, Turners Hill, Petworth, Hurstpierpoint, Steyning, East Grinstead, East Preston and Lancing.
On-call firefighters must be 18 or over and live or work close to the fire station.
Under the banner ‘Your Community Needs You’, the county council has launched a recruitment drive.
Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “We are calling on communities to help support our work by asking people who live or work within close proximity to your local fire station to find out more about becoming an on-call firefighter.
“On-call firefighters can come from every walk of life, including builders, plumbers, farmers, office staff, together with people who are not currently employed.
“Previous experience is not required thanks to the comprehensive training programme.”
The fire service is due for a week-long visit from Her Majesty’s Inspectors in November, with a report expected in May 2019.