Gwent fire chief: "No extra risk to life by closing Valleys station"
8:01am Monday 14th October 2013 in News
Campaign to save Blaina fire station, from left, AM Alun Davies, Lisa Winett, local Blaina councillor, firefighters Glyn Griffiths, watch manager, Leighton Brickell, Nigel Meek, widow Margaret Griffin, Gwyn Vaughan, Neil Amos and Dean Price (1411581)
THERE would be no extra risk to life by shutting a Valleys fire station, the chief of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has said.
But cutting a retained fire appliance in Cwmbran to save £180,000 could lead to one extra death in 100 years, according to computer risk analysis which backs up fire service money-saving proposals.
The service, which has 50 fire stations and 1,650 fire fighters, must slash £2.8million from its budget before April and has proposed closing Blaina station and cutting Cwmbran's retained appliance as part of its fire cover review.
It has already cut two directors' posts, five middle managers, two area managers, 75 operational station posts - some of which went from whole time to retained - and 71 full-time support structure jobs.
Speaking exclusively to the Argus, chief fire officer Huw Jakeway said the extra risk in Cwmbran is "tolerable", as Malpas and New Inn could provide the second appliance for fires.
But because retained fire fighters must live within minutes of a station, compulsory redundancies could follow. Other parts of Gwent, like Monmouthshire, could see recruitment.
"Since 1996 we've never looked at where our stations are and how they're crewed," said Mr Jakeway.
"We now get 50 per cent fewer emergency calls and have reduced the number of fires by 70 per cent in the last 12 years."
Between 2010 and 2012, Cwmbran's retained appliance received 319 call-outs, 191 of which were caused by automatic fire alarms. This compares to 1,756 call-outs by the whole time appliance.
The fire chief said it was with "regret" the service was proposing to close Blaina station to save £250,000, especially as the station lost two fire fighters, Kevin Lane, 32, and Stephen Griffin, 42, in a house fire on Zephaniah Way on February 1, 1996.
"I want to recognise the tragic events of February 1, 1996," said Mr Jakeway, adding that Blaina station has "phenomenal availability" of 100 per cent.
"But using professional judgement, statistics, the local development plan, all those things have led us to show we can close Blaina station due to the close proximity of Brynmawr and Abertillery, with whole time support from Ebbw Vale, with no increase to risk of fatalities.
"That's going to be difficult for the public to accept because of the emotion, which I really do understand, I get that," he said. "But regrettably, I've got to consider the economic climate."
Rebuilding or refurbishing Blaina station, which is full of asbestos, could cost between £1.32 million and £1.44 million, he said. The Ebbw Vale station is always available, but Brynmawr has management issues around contracts and the station needs £80,000 to £160,000 of work, he said.
Mr Jakeway said the new Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale will not require extra fire service provision because that must be done privately by those who build it.
According to the Fire Service Emergency Cover model, South Wales should experience six and a half fire deaths per year on average, but actually experiences three or four, and aims for none at all, said Mr Jakeway.
Consultation events will take place at Blaina library on October 17 and 18 from 10am to 5pm, and copies of an official survey have been left at Blaina fire station with free post envelopes.
Consultation closes on November 15 and the fire authority will make a decision on the plans at the fire service headquarters, Llantrisant, on December 9.
BLAENAU Gwent AM Alun Davies held talks with fire fighters and campaigners on Friday as part of the continuing fight to save Blaina fire station.
Mr Davies was joined by Margaret Griffin, widow of fire-fighter Stephen Griffin, to give feedback on meetings he held with Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway and the FBU last week.
Stephen Griffin one of the two fire fighters who lost their lives in a blaze in the town in 1996 and Mrs Griffin is a strong supporter of the station.
The move to close the station which is manned by 16 retained firefighters, and to remove the retained appliance from Cwmbran fire station, which is crewed by 17 retained firefighters, would mean an increase in response time by two-and-a-half minutes.
Mr Davies said: “I believe that this is in no way a done deal. I’m of the firm opinion following my meetings with the FBU and Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway that there is a strong case here to save Blaina fire station.
“This is not just about Blaina, the closure of the station would have a much larger impact on Blaenau Gwent as a whole.
“As it stands, Ebbw Vale is the only whole-time stationed in the borough, where as Tredegar, Blaina, Brynmawr and Abertillery are all retained station.
“The merger of Cefn Fforest and Bargoed stations will already put pressure on Abertillery to provide support and cover south of the borough.
“If you take Blaina out of the mix, which is already providing cover for other parts of the area, you leave fire cover depleted for the whole of the reason.
“The key thing that I cannot stress enough to the public is that taking part in the consultation is key.
“Everyone must fill out the survey individually to register their feelings, wherever you live in Blaenau Gwent.”
The online petition against the closure of one of the two fire engines from the Cwmbran station, has attracted more than 3,200 signatures.
To take part in the consultation follow the link on Alun’s facebook pagefacebook.com/AMAlunDavies
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