South Wales Fire Review – Bridgend stations to merge?

(Pic: South Wales Fire Service)

It’s reorganisation galore time in the emergency services it seems.

South Wales Fire & Rescue Service (SWFRS) recently launched a three-stage review into cover at their fire stations across the region. I’m only focusing on the first stage (Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff), but the other two stages – covering the rest of south Wales (RCT, Merthyr, Torfaen etc.) – will begin later this year.

Consultation on first stage proposals is open until September 23rd, and all the details are available here, with three surveys for each local authority. Here’s the Bridgend survey.

Why the review?

Every so often, the fire service needs to determine if their stations and crews are being used appropriately and whether their services provide value for money. They do so whilst factoring in call-out journey times, population changes and industrial use changes. This is the most significant review since SWFRS was formed in 1996.

Fire services are mostly funded from council tax precepts, and fire and rescue services were devolved to Wales in 2004, with law-making powers following in 2006. There are separate issues surrounding firefighter pensions – which are probably the big financial pressure – the terms and conditions of which were changed by the Welsh Government over the course of this year.

Because of significant falls in house fires and fire deaths generally, firefighters are probably more likely to be called out to things like car accidents, deliberate arsons and civil emergencies like flooding.

SWFRS say 64% of incidents they’re called out to can be dealt with by a single fire engine, and as little as 7% of incidents require three fire engines. They can also get support from neighbouring fire services as and when required.

They say demand for their services has fallen by 40% over the last ten years, from ~33,000 calls per year to ~19,700 calls. So we might not need that many heavily-crewed fire stations anymore.

I suppose in a twisted way you could say that they’re victims of their own success. That’s presumably due to improved road safety, improvements to industrial fire safety regulations and increases in the number of homes with smoke alarms.

Unlike other reorganisations, I think SWFRS deserve praise for explaining this in easy to understand terms. Other public bodies can learn a lot from them.


What’s proposed (pdf)?
Remaining the same

There are no planned changes to any stations/services in Cardiff. Instead, SWFRS want to “keep an eye on things” and consider building new fire stations as and when they’re needed. They recently replaced Cardiff Central fire station.

There are no planned changes to Bridgend or Maesteg fire stations either. In addition, there are no proposed changes to the retained (part-time) fire stations at Pencoed, Pontycymer & Ogmore Vale.

In the Vale of Glamorgan, there are no changes proposed to Penarth & Llantwit Major stations.

Proposed station changes

Cowbridge will be downgraded from full-time to a “retained”/”on-call” station.

Barry will downgrade from 2x full-time crews, to 1x full-time and 1x retained crew.

Proposed stations closures/merger

Kenfig Hill and Porthcawl fire stations will close and be replaced by a new, merged station at South Cornelly to serve the western half of Bridgend county. It’ll be manned by the existing retained crews.

SWFRS say they used computer modelling to predict things like response times, estimating that everywhere will still be reached within 10 minutes under these proposals.

It’s hinted there could be a reduction in the number of firefighters overall, though it’s unclear how many. It’s also unclear precisely how much money would be saved, but the best estimate is £1.6million. Presumably there’ll be an up-front cost to build new stations though.

That’s pretty much it for now. It’s all open to consultation so things could change.

(Fire) Prevention is still the best cure

There was a house fire very close to me earlier this year. So close, I couldn’t only see it, but smell it and feel it.

Despite being a traditional common-or-garden terrace you find across south Wales, it was gutted within ten minutes. Absolutely everything – including the roof – was gone. It was unforgiving and more than a little bit unnerving to tell the truth. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

Bridgend Fire Station is 5 minutes away, but it took at least ten hours to put the fire completely out, and it also required a specialist tender from elsewhere.

Housebuilders have been moaning about the costs of sprinkler systems in new build homes – phased in from this year – under Ann Jones AM’s (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) Domestic Fire Safety Measure 2011. I’m not sceptical. Trust me, once you’ve seen for yourselves firsthand how quickly a house fire can spread, you’re going to think it’s worth every penny. People also ignore the fact it would likely reduce insurance bills and reduce the cost of damaged property.

I appreciate how subtle changes to call-out response times will cause unease, as will the reduction in the number of full-time crews. But the former doesn’t make much practical difference. You don’t have time to think about saving your home and possessions unless you’re on top of the fire straight away, and it’s hard to do that.

So – as the above video demonstrates – you can live right next to a fire station, so close firefighters can walk, and it won’t make a blind bit of difference to outcomes in comparison to say, an ambulance reaching a heart attack victim within a set time.The best way to stay safe is all of us helping ourselves by having a working smoke alarm so you can get out as quickly as possible in the first place, as well as following common sense advice on fire safety.

I hope that despite these proposals, SWFRS will continue to focus on/ring fence fire safety initiatives, as well as contributing to things like road safety training, to both prevent accidents and prevent fires from starting.

Ideally, instead of firefighter redundancies as a result of these proposals, I hope they could transfer to those sorts of educational roles.