FIREFIGHTERS in Littlehampton will be able to get to blazes quicker than ever before thanks to a major shake-up in the way the county’s fire service operates.
For the first time in Littlehampton’s history, the town’s fire station, in Maltravers Road, will be staffed round-the-clock.
“We are no different to any big organisation in that we have to change with the times...”Gavin Watts, assistant chief fire officer
The station will now have a full-time night crew based there, instead of being staffed purely by retained crews in the evening.
The change, officially unveiled last Wednesday, comes as part of the fire service’s overhaul, which is being touted as the biggest shake-up in the way it works for several decades.
Suzanne Goff was the first watch manager on duty as part of the new Littlehampton night shift team.
She said: “It’s quite a significant moment in the history of the station. We’re the first night crew but there are now five whole-time watches that will work in 12-hour shifts round-the-clock and will be working alongside retained colleagues who have given Littlehampton great service for many years.”
A total of 25 firefighters will be working from Littlehampton, slashing night response times potentially by four minutes. There would be no cut to retained numbers.
The changes are all part of the £1.6m cuts to the fire service’s budget, which were voted in last October under a wave of controversy and public anger.
But a year after first being proposed, fire chiefs are keen to look forward, saying staff are eager to begin their new duties, and insisting the service people expect when they call 999 in an emergency won’t be downgraded in any way.
“Yes, it has meant a significant change to the way we have always worked,” Gavin Watts, assistant chief fire officer, said. “The old crewing system had been in place for 40 years-plus, it’s what I worked when I began as a fireman in 1989 and it’s been the same since.”
Instead of the old system of crews working nine-hour days or 15-hour nights, new 12-hour shifts for both day and night have been introduced this week.
Mr Watts said: “It’s been a big culture change, and with that has brought some doubt and uncertainty about what it means to them personally and professionally.
“But we are no different to any big organisation in that we have to change with the times, and what’s important is that the new system is different from the one first proposed because our staff have been involved in the process.”
West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, like every other one up and down the country, has had to adjust its operations amid central government funding cuts.
Those changes will affect all the fire stations in the area to varying capacities.
But no stations in the county are closing, and bosses are confident the new service will be a more efficient one, and crucially won’t affect how it deals with people’s emergency calls.
Mr Watts said there would be no change to residents, overall.
“They will dial 999, ask for the fire service and get the fire service,” he said. “Whatever resources are required for any particular call will be sent out, that hasn’t changed at all.”
Littlehampton is the sixth busiest area for the fire service.
The station now forms one of six 24/7 response stations in the county.