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Members’ Services Office,

Town Hall Extension


PO Box 532
Manchester
M60 2LA

27th May 2019


Dear Mayor Andy Burnham,

This letter is Deansgate Ward Councillors’ response to Greater Manchester Fire and
Rescue Service’s Programme for Change proposals.

We understand the significant challenges faced by GMFRS as we approach nearly a


decade of public sector austerity and are acutely aware of the pressure the service is
under. Though we are acutely aware of this, we are deeply worried about the future
vision for the service, particularly with regard to the impact on our ward and our
residents in the city centre.

As they stand, we worry these proposals could be a danger to frontline services,


reduce performance, and harm response times now and in the future.

Our concerns focus on:


 Fewer firefighters and fire engines servicing the city centre
 Slower response times in life-threatening situations
 Less prevention and education activity
 Lack of consideration of population growth in the city centre
 Lack of consideration of fire safety issues in apartment blocks subsequently of
the Grenfell Fire and the revelation of serious defects in building regulations

We do not in principle object to the replacement of an older fire station with a


newer, state of the art fire station or combining stations so as to improve their
facilities. We do however have concerns in this regard relating to:
 The loss of a 2nd fire engine and crew in the amalgamation of two fire
stations. We believe that the loss of a fire engine at the merged station would
harm the safety of our residents as outlined in our argument below around
the overall cut to the number of fire engines.
 The vulnerability of a single station to congestion/gridlock when compared to
a higher level of resilience provided by two stations. We believe that a single
location, however ‘suitable’ the site would be more vulnerable to incidents
whereby access to, from, and around the city centre is restricted, including
general congestion, closures for sporting activity, and road traffic accidents
for example.

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Fewer firefighters and fire engines servicing the city centre is of great concern to us.
Overall, we think the loss of 194 fewer firefighters and 9 fewer fire engines will lead
to a reduced service at a time where dwelling fires are on the increase. One of the
fewer fire engines would be lost from our community’s stations, which has the
highest population density in all of Greater Manchester and contains a high number
of high-rise buildings.

Fewer firefighters mean fewer members of appliance crews, falling to 4 from the
nationally accepted 5. Particularly in high-rise city centre incidents, we are deeply
concerned how a reduction in crews will impact the ability to respond and endanger
firefighters’ safety. In discussion with the FBU and UNISON, we understand they are
worried about the hampered ability to undertaker safety critical activities putting
firefighters at risk. We further concerned about this impact with respect to building
evacuations.

Fewer engines means longer response times. After the Grenfell Fire, the number of
fire engines initially sent to a high-rise incident was raised to 5, within which one
appliance would provide support for the aerial platform according to GMFRS. These
proposals suggest a loss of one engine from the two engines at Manchester Central
and the two engines at Phillips Park—meaning that our local fire station would have
just three fire engines, which is not enough to attend any high-rise incident. This
would require more appliances to be taken from further afield, increasing response
times.

Meanwhile, other changes in the programme involve a general reduction in response


times. On this point, we believe that comparisons to national averages are moot: the
number of engines required to attend high rise incidents and the nature of the city
when compared to the countryside mean such national comparisons are
meaningless. We are currently marginally better than the “predominantly urban
area” average of 7 minutes 39 seconds and better than this is what we should
expect at the very least. We believe that our city should be aiming for the fastest
response times—the best possible service for our residents when their lives are in
danger.

We have been informed by GMFRS that currently 9 engines can attend the city
centre within 10 minutes of a call and these proposals would reduce this to 7 fire
engines. Yet, Appendix XIV ‘Fire Cover Review’ discusses the merger of Manchester
Central and Phillips Park (including the removal of an appliance). It states that the
“suitably equipped first appliance” (emphasis added) would be able to attend all life
risk incidents within up to 10 minutes from the receipt of the call on 80% of
occasions. The average response times for 2nd and 3rd appliances would be 10
minute 10 seconds and 12 minute 35 seconds. This far exceeds the national average
(which we again believe is not a good enough target to aim for) for 3 appliances, let

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alone 5. We need clarity and a definitive answer on the time it would take to
respond to a high-rise city-centre incident in the proposals, and we suspect that it
falls below the standards we expect. Such clarity will need to contain averages, but
should contain significantly more information than averages alone—such as worst
case scenarios.

We also note that the response times are subject to an 80% success rate, meaning
20% would fail with respect to attendance times. One in five incidents across
Greater Manchester taking longer than expected is relatively high and is likely to be
geographically unequal. We want clarity on the distribution of these projected timing
failures and how likely it is that high-rise city centre incidents would fall outside of
expected response times.

Fire prevention activity, such as fire safety enforcement visits are very important. As
ward Councillors, we regularly see the excellent work of fire officers. We have
particularly worked closely on fire safety issues such as cladding defects. This also
includes water safety, such as the canals in the city centre. This activity helps to
protect the public now and in the long run, and we are concerned about the impact
of reduction of this activity suggested by the Programme. 115 fewer support staff
will severely hamper the success of such activity. We believe this also to be true of
the crucial educational activity GMFRS undertakes.

We would also like to stress our concerns that it is not clear that the Programme for
Change has adequately considered recent, ongoing and future population growth in
the city centre or the planning pipeline.

As ward Councillors, we are supporting residents across the city centre who are
living in buildings with fire safety defects. This includes dangerous cladding,
inadequate compartmentation and other issues. Our experience on these is that pre-
determined attendance of 5 pumps to a high-rise incident does not account for the
failure of compartmentation, which would put the public and the firefighters in
attendance at risk. It is not clear that these proposals have considered this and it is
imperative that they do.

Furthermore, we have also been told that it would be possible to get 33 fire engines
into the city centre within 20 minutes—which could be required in the event of a
compartmentation failure at a high-rise incident. However, this equates to 70% of
engines in Greater Manchester. We are not clear how this matches with the planning
assumptions of the Outline Business Case (Appendix VIII) which are based on two
10 pump incidents or one 20 pump incident. We are also acutely aware of GMFRS
resources being used to support neighbouring brigades regularly and in incidents
such as last year’s moorland fires, which evidently reduces resources available
should there be a large incident in Greater Manchester, including the city centre. We

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would like to understand what impact attending high rise incidents would have on
the service overall and how these response times are modelled with respect to
multiple incidents and other requirements of the engines other than city centre
incidents.

High-rise incidents where compartmentation has failed are now foreseeable, after
the horrendous and tragic event of the Grenfell Tower fire, and it should not be
unclear to us or the public how they are being planned for or how the response
would work should the proposals be implemented.

As stated above, our concerns have focused on reductions to the number of


firefighters and engines, slower response times, reductions to prevention and
education activity, and lack of consideration of population growth and fire safety
problems in some apartment blocks.

We do have a number of additional general concerns about this process:


 We do not believe that Trade Unions have been sufficiently consulted as part
of the development of these proposals. We ask that the proposals are paused
until Trade Unions are sufficiently consulted.
 We are concerned that Councillors have not had and will not have a sufficient
level of scrutiny over these proposals, as would have been allowed by the
former Greater Manchester Fire Authority and Fire Committee setup. We ask
that there is consideration of scrutiny, and how scrutiny over GMFRS by Local
Councillors, which includes investigating re-instatement of the Fire
Committee.
 We require detailed information about how this will affect our residents. This
includes a number of issues we have marked as needing clarity above, and
general information about how it will affect residents. This information should
be made public and communicated beyond the internet, and we ask that this
is done promptly.

Overall, we ask that our concerns are addressed to ensure the safety of our
residents and our firefighters. National cuts are damaging our city and our safety:
this Government’s lack of regard for safety is nothing short of a disgrace.
Nonetheless, we are deeply worried that these proposals risk public safety and do
not accept them in their current form for our city.

Yours sincerely,

Marcus, Joan & William