The Horsham district is bracing for a reduced service at West Sussex Fire and Rescue as firefighters strike today (Wednesday September 25).
Sean Ruth, chief fire officer for the county, has urged members of the public to take extra care during the four hour period of industrial action between 12 noon and 4pm.
The FBU has called for strike action as part of its on-going dispute with the government over proposed changes to firefighter pensions.
Mr Ruth said: “The safety of the public and our staff is always our priority and I want to reassure people in West Sussex that we will still provide a response to emergencies during this industrial action.
“Naturally, we had all hoped that strike action could be avoided. If the strike goes ahead it will certainly be a challenging time, but if it does then I am confident emergency fire and rescue services can be maintained in West Sussex through a combination of retained firefighters, officers, and non-FBU personnel.
“If you have a genuine emergency you should still dial 999. Inevitably though, a period of industrial action would mean our normal level of response would be reduced and so I would urge the public to take extra steps to protect themselves and reduce the risk of emergencies occurring. Simple things like ensuring your home has a working smoke alarm, not leaving cooking unattended, and extinguishing cigarettes properly can make the difference between needing to dial 999 or not.
“Obviously, we still hope that negotiations between the government and the FBU will continue and this dispute can still be resolved. However, as an emergency service we have a statutory duty to prepare contingency plans for staff shortages regardless of whether they are caused through industrial action, extreme weather, or pandemic flu etc. We’ve taken steps to prepare and we’d urge the public to do the same.”
West Sussex County Council cabinet member for residents’ services, Lionel Barnard, added: “This is a national dispute over which we have no local control. It is not a dispute between West Sussex firefighters and the county council, however, I can reassure the public that our Fire and Rescue Service has well developed plans to minimise the impact of this strike and provide emergency services to our community.
“Of course, residents, businesses, and people travelling in our county can help by taking extra care and reducing the demand on 999 services. I’d therefore urge everyone to follow the fire and road safety advice they are given. We are still here if you need us, but prevention is better than cure even during normal service levels and especially so when there could be fewer firefighters available.”