By Joshua Robinson –
More than fifty new firefighter posts have been created in West Yorkshire to help meet the demands of the service.
This will be the first time since the 1970’s that the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) will be recruiting to increasing its headcount for firefighters.
Following the council tax precept from last year, this has directly resulted in a £1.5 million investment in the service.
WYFRS, like all public sector institutions, have experienced cuts in their budget since 2010, when the austerity measures started.
As a result of austerity, firefighter numbers have reduced from 1,490 to 900 over the last twelve years. This was mainly due to not replacing firefighters when they retired or left, not through redundancies.
Whilst this allowed for efficient savings, it did place significant pressure on staffing and the flexibility of service delivery.
Deputy Fire Chief Officer Dave Walton said: “We have suffered more than any other fire service nationally in terms of the impact of the austerity measures, as we have taken more of a hit in terms of budget cuts and the impact then on staffing numbers.”
“While it is never ideal to be in such a position, it presented us with an opportunity to look at what we wanted to achieve as a service and to make us fit for the future.”
To combat this, the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority members approved an increase in £5 council tax precept and the proposal to invest in service delivery by adding thirty-four new posts.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Walton said: “Having the ability to increase our numbers like this is a great position to be in. While of course it is not going to take us back to the numbers we had over 10 years ago, it is a significant step in the right direction.”
This was achieved by asking every household to pay £5 a year to the fire service. The investment in operational establishment directly contributes to the ambition of ‘Making West Yorkshire Safer’ and is captured in the new Community Risk Management Plan.
The Community Risk Management Plan outlines the work that will be achieved over the next three years to make communities safer.
Deputy Fire Chief stated: “In the last 10 years alone there have been huge changes not only in prevention of fires, but also tackling them. There are new building regulations, and new fire standards because of Grenfell, and the work to encourage people to fit smoke alarms has made a significant impact in a reduction of numbers of house fires. New houses are far more insulated than before and often have hardwired systems in place.”
“These are clearly all good measures and ones we will continue to build on with our prevention and protection work. But we also face new, often unforeseen, challenges.”
Deputy Fire Chief further added: “The wildfires this summer in the heatwave were unprecedented for example. And flooding and water rescue numbers have increased in terms of our deployment.”
“Having these new firefighters will enable us to have more boots on the ground at stations where they are most needed, which will free up crews for training for these new challenges so we can continue to keep people safe in years to come.”
It is expected that the new firefighters will all be assigned to a watch and station by January 2023.
WYFRS will need a cash injection to begin this process, but will quickly become cost neutral as it will enable the service to cut back on overtime and other absences. The additional thirty-four firefighter posts will take the operational establishment to 934 staff.
The Operational Resource Pool comprised of firefighters who were available to cover shortfall across the region, has also ceased in its current form with the twenty-two posts now distributed across the stations.
As a result, fifty-six operational posts will be allocated to all fourteen single pump fire stations within weeks.