Shropshire firefighters took to the streets to personally ask the taxpaying public for their views on how their local fire service should look in the future as it faces unprecedented financial cuts.
Retained firefighters, who operate out of 22 of the county's 23 fire stations, volunteered to ask residents, shoppers and passers-by for their thoughts in the wake of a potential closure of county fire stations due to the economic crisis.
A spokesperson told FIRE that Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is one of the most poorly funded in the UK despite being consistently voted one of the best run brigades.
At the start of the public survey in Newport − one of the county's market towns − a total of 141 interviews took place in Newport High Street with residents and shoppers. Firefighter Charlie Cartwright said: "99.9 per cent of responses were very positive and people said they were prepared to pay extra for their local fire service."
People were asked if they were willing to pay a little extra per week more per household, perhaps 3p or 4p, next year on top of their current £1.20 council tax bill. The alternative could be closure of up to five stations by 2015.
It is all part of a public consultation process authorised by Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority in mid-December with Chief Fire Officer Paul Raymond opting for the "unusual" public survey. He warned that "extra cuts" of around £1 million had the potential of increasing the time people wait for a fire engine through the closure of up to five essential Shropshire fire stations.
"In my professional view I must advise everyone that cutting the service that far will increase risk for local people.
"The public should be aware that despite huge cuts we have made and continue to make, this brigade will face a deficit of around £1 million in 2015. We have always taken a long term approach to financing the fire and rescue service locally and unless we take action now we could see up to five fire stations closed between 2013 and 2015 in rural and urban areas.
"We want the people of Shropshire to directly tell us their views and I feel that the best way possible is for them to talk face to face with their local firefighters who live and work in our towns and villages across Shropshire."
Fire Authority Chairman Stuart West said that he hoped people would see how important their local fire and rescue service is and see if they are willing to pay an extra few pence a week to protect their local fire service in the future. "The prevention and emergency service we provide does represent excellent value for money as we cost the average household less than the cost of annual pet insurance. We are asking the public for an increase equal to half the current inflation rate.
"We will listen to the public's view before we make our decision but I hope they will see the significant difference a few pence per week can make to this essential public service."
Over the past two years Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has made severe financial cuts including the "difficult task" of reducing senior incident commanders by 25 per cent, cutting firefighters by 10 per cent and outsourcing office work while still delivering an effective emergency service.
A recruitment freeze began in 2009 with pay frozen in 2010 and 2011 and any pay rises in 2012 and 2013 capped to 1 per cent. This year alone, the service stripped out over £1 million in costs.
A total of £3 million will have been saved from the £21 million cost of the fire service by 2015 while protecting the visible front line but around an extra £1 million is needed to be cut by 2015 as part of a total 28 per cent government funding cut which will have a big impact on the number of fire engines and firefighters.
"Reducing the cost of running the service by £3 million may not be enough to protect the service in the future," said Mr Raymond.
The public consultation started on January 7 with a wide scale public survey which will run until the fire authority meeting in February.
Photo: the firefighter survey in Newport High Street last weekend − one of many held across the county
Posted January 10th, 2012 at 0915 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org