Lancaster MP fears fire service cuts will put lives at risk

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has been forced to cut vital home safety checks.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has been forced to cut vital home safety checks.

Lancaster MP Cat Smith has slammed government cuts which have forced Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service to scrap home safety checks.

The fire service has now restricted preventative fire safety home checks to only those deemed ‘high-risk’.

Previously, firefighters routinely visited households that requested a check to give free fire safety advice, fit smoke alarms and check escape routes.

But now, anyone requesting a free check is asked questions, with only those with a high risk being visited. Those with a lower risk will be sent safety advice through the post or an email.

Ms Smith said: “Means testing could put people off from applying for checks which could save lives.

“I am concerned that we are asking firefighters to assess if someone is vulnerable or high risk when they are there to protect everyone – not just the few.”

Andy Dark, Fire Brigades Union assistant general secretary, said: “How could fire and rescue services accurately know when someone moves from being deemed non-vulnerable to being high risk?

“People’s circumstances change all the time. Means testing could see people fall through the cracks.

“This is a step backwards for firefighters as we should be increasing our engagement with the public not reducing it.

“Firefighters are undertaking more work than ever by engaging with local communities, from helping to spot early signs of dementia, to undertaking health and well-being checks and fitting fire prevention equipment.

“This is sadly another example of services to the public being cut on top of closing fire stations, removing pumps, longer response times and smaller crews.”

Kevin Deacon, Fire Brigades Union chairman, said: “It is a reorganisation, but it’s a cut to the service there’s no doubt about it.”

He said as a result of the review, there would be 17 job losses through “natural wastage”, as part of the government’s austerity measures.

Mr Deacon said: “We believe in a fully-funded fire service, for the safety not only of the public but of our members.

“The home fire safety checks have reduced fires occurring, there’s no doubt about that, but as a direct consequence of that, the government then believes that if there are fewer fire calls they don’t need the fire service.”

A spokesman said the changes were in part to make savings, but also “to focus the service where it’s most needed”.

Project manager for the changes, group manager Simon Bone, says: “The change makes sure that we prioritise and target our resources towards those most at risk to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

“Fire crews and community fire safety advocates will now spend more time with those people who most need our help, while others who are more able to help themselves continue to be offered the advice they might need to make necessary changes. We are confident the assessment questions to determine risk and vulnerability will effectively identify those people we should be offering visits to.”