Today (Thursday 12th January 2017), Portsmouth Lib Dem councillors met with some of Portsmouth's fire officers. The video above shows Cllr Steve Pitt finding out exactly what the situation is from Nigel McCullen who is a fire fighter at Southsea Fire Station and member of the Fire Brigades Union.
Last year, Southsea Fire Station had its number of fire officers cut by 16. This reduced the number on each of the four watches from a maximum of 20 by four fire fighters per watch.
Our concern last year was that these cuts would mean that when there was a fire in a high rise building (more than 6 storeys) there would not be enough people to crew the fire engine with a tall platform (ALP) to go out.
We were given assurances by the Leader of the City Council that if the ALP fire engine was needed, it would be available and be used. She said: “NO LIVES WILL BE PUT AT RISK...THEY'LL SEND THE AERIAL LADDER PLATFORM STRAIGHT AWAY". In addition, Conservative Cllr Luke Stubbs, one of the city’s representatives on the Fire Authority, said: "You can always put someone else on the watch, someone else who is available, on the Aerial Ladder Platform."
We have now been told that this is not happening. If there is a fire in a high rise then Hampshire Fire Service rules say they must have five fire engines on site. This uses up all the fire engines and all the fire crews in Portsmouth. It leaves no fire fighters to crew the Aerial Ladder Platform.
On five occasions over the last few months the ALP from Portsmouth could not be deployed when it was needed and the one from Southampton had to be sent here. This included the recent fire at the dry cleaners in Albert Road and the fire at Handsworth House in the autumn (although the Southsea ALP was out of operation that day). This is really worrying for any of us and especially so for anyone who livesin a high rise.
Tonight we set up a meeting for all councillors in Portsmouth across all parties to meet fire fighters from Portsmouth. The fire fighters told us that, even with the reduced crews working in Southsea, they had come up with a plan to make sure the ALP fire engine can be crewed by the existing fire fighters and at no extra cost. They had suggested this multiple months ago but this had been blocked by the fire service management. Now, the management have heard about our meeting and are looking at this again. I have written to the Assistant Chief Fire Officer about this to make sure this happens.
For the last few months, Portsmouth residents who live in high rises have lived with an increased risk because they have depended on a fire engine coming from Southampton. This breaks the assurances that the Conservative Leader of the Council gave local residents last year. Now it looks like pressure from the fire fighters, the Fire Brigades Union and local Lib Dem councillors may have produced a solution. We'll do our best to keep people updated.