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Fire service ‘in disarray’

fire serviceCONCERNS have arisen this week over potential safety risks posed to Pembrokeshire’s refineries, as the Fire and Rescue Service for Mid and West Wales announced a possible budget cut of up to £4 million.

The proposed cut backs could mean that every full time firefighter employed at Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Ammanford fire stations would be replaced by part-time staff, sparking fears of compromised safety, of which the Fire Brigades Union secretary for Mid and West Wales, Barry Davies, said:

“These cuts will put the lives of the public and firefighters at risk. The Welsh Government must recognise fire services now face a severe funding crisis.”

Paul Miller, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Preseli, said of the crisis: “Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock Fire Stations have already been downgraded more than once.

“Last week’s proposal from the Fire Authority will mean we have no whole time firefighters on station in Milford Haven. Coupled with the same in Pembroke Dock, that’s two LNG terminals, two oil refineries and one, soon to be two, power stations, whose nearest Fire Station will be home to zero full time fire-fighters.

“People in and around Milford Haven will be put at risk and all to maintain less critical services elsewhere. The Tory and Plaid members who run the Fire Authority, plan to make savings in Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock (whatever the risk) to ensure their areas are protected.”

Mid and West AM, Simon Thomas of Plaid Cymru, said in response to Mr Miller: “I am obviously concerned about the proposals. I’ve already called on the Labour Minister to intervene, but she has refused to do so. I will be making strong representations to the Fire Authority to ensure Pembrokeshire is protected from cuts imposed on the authority by the Labour Welsh Government.

“The Labour candidate forgets that it his own party which is responsible for any changes in the fire service locally. I will be also urging the Fire Authority for their assurances that public safety will be met at all times.”

Cllr David Howlett, Leader of the Conservative Group on the County Council, had this to say in response to Mr Miller’s statement: “With Milford Haven being the energy capital of the United Kingdom it is vital that we have a fire service that is able to cope with any incidents that may occur. I am amazed at the comments of Cllr Miller who claims ‘Tory and Plaid members who run the Fire Authority’. In fact, Labour have 11 members on the fire authority compared with four from Plaid Cymru and only one Conservative.”

Delyth Evans, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, added to her colleague’s concerns, saying: “To remove full fire response cover from Pembroke Dock would expose this community to unnecessary risks. Labour will be launching a campaign this week to ensure that we are not put at risk by the worst kind of political decision making by the fire authority.”

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William Powell AM, Liberal Democrat for Mid and West Wales, commented: “I am aware that the proposals are causing considerable anxiety. Clearly, there are essential services across the area which need fire and rescue coverage. There are now genuine questions over whether that will be possible should the proposed reconfigurations take place.”

However, Wynne Evans, councillor for Narberth Ward and Chairman of the Resources Management Committee, said: “We have some very difficult decisions to make. This will have implications across all six local authority areas. All that has been discussed are options, not decisions.”

The Herald contacted LNG and Valero to enquire as to what safety implications any reduction in service may have, but both companies declined to comment.

However, a spokesperson for the Murco refinery explained that, along with the other refineries, they had their own equipment and fire crews which made them self-contained operations.

Only this week the Fire Brigade Union held a one-day strike across the country. Haverfordwest firefighter and watch manager, Chris Collins, speaking on behalf of FBU members, said: “The strike is an ongoing dispute. The Government have increased our pensions contributions from 11% to 14.2% of our salary. The Government wants us to work beyond the age of 55 and, with the job and its physicality, we do not think that is a feasible way to go. The FBU have said we are going for a second ballot, but we are trying to get an agreement beforehand.”

On the issue of the potential cuts in services, Mr Collins added: “One of the initial proposals to the Fire Authority was to save £4 million over two years. The only way to do this is the downgrading of stations or maybe redundancies. A retained only station would mean that personel would be alerted from their home address, creating a delayed response.”

Milford Haven Fire station watch manager, Andy Syme, added to Mr Collins’ comments: “Firefighting is a physiologically strenuous job which necessitates firefighters retiring earlier than the majority of the workforce. Milford firefighters realise the concerns of the public and we urge them to remain vigilant and to protect their families during this difficult time. But we hope that they can find some degree of empathy towards our current situation.”