Agreement to increase the size of fire crews in Herefordshire & Worcestershire still possible
An agreement between Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to put crews of five back on full-time staffed fire engines across the two counties, at no additional cost to the Service, is still a possibility – although this is dependent on full-time firefighters voting to accept it before the end of the month.
The agreement is the result of 12 months of extensive and constructive consultation and negotiation between all parties, which would see investment in more full-time firefighter posts (offset by a reduction in the current number of supervisory manager posts) - with everyone having to work more flexibly by self-rostering within their teams in order to maximise the efficiency of the duty systems.
Importantly, the new duty systems would not require any firefighter to work more than the 42 hours, on average, per week that they are currently contracted to do.
However, if firefighters fail to vote on the agreement before the 1st March – or choose to reject it - the Service will have to consider its implementation, if the Fire Authority wants to increase the full-time crewing levels from four personnel (as it is currently) to five personnel to support operational resilience.
Chief Fire Officer Nathan Travis said: "We first brokered the agreement with the FBU back in November last year – and since then we have also been willing to modify it in response to last-minute concerns from firefighters. What has resulted is a very fair and reasonable deal that means we can reinstate crews of five, where appropriate, at our full-time crewed fire stations – providing better resilience and more capacity through different ways of working, whilst keeping our costs within the challenging budget restrictions we face over the next few years."
"I appreciate we are asking staff to work differently, but we are also prepared to support them through a transition period and even invest any early savings into those support arrangements."
He added: "In relation to the three stations at Droitwich, Evesham and Malvern, specifically, which run on the Day Crewing system, we are also asking the firefighters to maximise their contracted hours working in the community or at the station during the day, and this improved efficiency means that the capacity to crew with fives can be delivered without having any impact on local emergency cover arrangements, which is something local communities were concerned about."
"And to recognise the additional changes at these stations, we have also agreed to increase firefighter pay and allowances relating to the on-call element of their job."
Talking about the way forward, CFO Travis said: "If the local brigade committee accept the agreement, which I hope they do, we have agreed to phase in the changes in over a reasonable period. However, if they vote to reject the agreement, the options we have open to us would be to continue to implement the changes and bring people on board as we progress or look at ways to maintain riding with crews of four in a more resilient manner – which will still require changes to the way a number of our firefighters currently work, albeit using existing duty systems."
"I hope we can find a way to move forward with these changes, in agreement with staff, but we also need to realise that increasing the crewing levels without working differently is not possible."
Fire Authority Chairman, Cllr Roger Phillips said: "We tasked officers almost 12 months ago now to engage with our firefighters and their representative bodies to see if they could come up with a way of increasing our operational resilience and capacity through more flexible working practices that not only made sure our costs stayed within budget, but also offered up more opportunities to attract and retain people from more diverse backgrounds."
"I believe the current agreement struck between the Service and the FBU meets all of these priorities and following our meeting today, the Fire Authority has supported its implementation, however, we are still mindful of our preference to reach a collective agreement before 1st March."