WALES’ fire and rescue services could be given a wider role in keeping people safe as part of the Welsh Government’s future vision for the service, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn announced today.
Wales’ three Fire and Rescue Services continue to succeed in reducing both the incidence and severity of fire.
Wales has the most extensive programme of home fire safety visits in Great Britain, which focuses effectively on people most at risk of fire. The Welsh Government provides the service with £660,000 in funding to ensure these visits, and the safety devices which are supplied as part of them, are completely free to householders.
This success means the demand on the service is now so low, the service is increasingly under-occupied in many parts of Wales.
Many rural fire stations now respond to only a handful of fires a month. This is making it difficult to recruit and retain the on-call firefighters on which most of Wales relies, and risks jeopardising the sustainability of the Service in rural areas.
In addition, the Fire Service continues to attend a high number of false alarms – which outnumber actual fires, accounting for around 40% of all incidents the Service attends, and consume significant resources for no benefit at all.
The future vision for the service being outlined today involves the possibility of giving Wales’ fire and rescue services responsibility for responding to a range of threats to people’s health and safety, both in terms of prevention and emergency response.
Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said:
“I would like to thank our Fire and Rescue Services in Wales for their continued success in reducing both the incidence and severity of fire. I have little doubt that this success is partly due to the great emphasis that the Fire Service places on preventing fire and improving awareness of fire risks.
“Firefighters are highly trained to deal with a wide range of incidents besides fires, and have the expertise and respect to raise awareness of and prevent non-fire threats too. There is clear potential for the service to make a real contribution to supporting the NHS in particular, whether in terms of responding to medical emergencies or helping to prevent accidents like falls at home; and clear evidence that this can secure better outcomes and significant savings. There are many impressive examples of this happening, but they are often small-scale and piecemeal.
“I believe we need to go further, and to do so more consistently and strategically. I want to see a Fire and Rescue Service which deals with a range of threats to people’s health and safety, both in terms of prevention and emergency response, complementing not duplicating the work of other professionals. Only by doing so can we maximise the Service’s public value and secure a sustainable future for it.
“There is real potential to capitalise on the success the Service has already achieved and to maximise its value to the people of Wales. I will make a further announcement in due course on the way ahead.”
To deliver the vision:
There needs to be an agreement on firefighters’ pay and conditions which fairly reflects a broader role. Bilateral UK-level negotiations on this have been very slow. While Welsh Ministers have no wish to step outside the current negotiating machinery, they believe setting out a clearer and more tightly-defined set of requirements for Wales could give the negotiations the impetus they need. The Deputy Minister reiterates the Welsh Government’s commitment to consider providing financial support to a pay deal that meets the needs of Wales and Welsh firefighters.
There needs to be a robust and strategic agreement between the Fire Service, the NHS and other partners, so that the former’s resources can be deployed where they are most needed. There are already constructive discussions on this at senior management level.
The Welsh Government will work with the FRAs to ensure they have the necessary funding and governance mechanisms to support this broader role going forward.