Unions condemn ‘dangerous’ plans on first anniversary of major blaze

On the first anniversary of the blaze that ripped through a city’s historic heart, firefighters yesterday demanded an end to “dangerous” cuts.

Unions said they feared lessons learned in the “horrendous” inferno that devastated Exeter’s Royal Clarence Hotel a year ago “have not been learned”.

Fire Brigades Union chair Scott Young said: “Since the Cathedral Yard fire we have all witnessed the horror of Grenfell Tower, which is a wake-up call regarding the need for more effective fire and building safety.”

FBU health and safety and Exeter representative Dave Chappell added: “There are already significant problems trying to maintain fire and rescue cover.” The FBU is asking members of the public to support them in their campaign to prevent further cuts.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said it aimed to make people safer while reducing costs.

The Exeter fire caused massive damage and 150 firefighters battled the flames.

The union was reacting to Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority’s draft Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP).

Scott Young said: “The draft IRMP makes no reference either to the demands put upon the service from major incidents like Cathedral Yard, or, even more significantly, the potential issues arising from Grenfell. This despite 10,000 businesses in Devon and Somerset being identified as ‘priority addresses’.

“Instead, the draft IRMP – which proposes how the fire service will operate in the coming years – calls for a review of how many firefighters crew an engine, making the completely unsubstantiated claim that 70 per cent of incidents can be ‘fully resolved’ with just two firefighters. We believe this is an inappropriate and irresponsible statement to make.

Dave Chappell said that currently, on average 15 out of 108 fire engines in Devon and Somerset are unavailable at all times, due to crewing problems.

Pilot scheme launched in Liskeard

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has recently launched a pilot scheme in Liskeard, where the station is manned full-time for the first time in its history for an 18-month period, with tackling retained firefighter recruitment problems one of its top priorities.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service say: “Our plan sets out how we are going to make the people who live, work and visit Devon and Somerset safer whilst reducing costs. All public services have to operate with less
money and we are no exception.

“The future of our service needs to reflect both the type of risk we are presented with and the savings we need to make.”

John Badley, who was in charge of the Royal Clarence Hotel when the fire broken out, said: “It’s hard to believe the fire was a year ago.”

“Work until now has been mostly to make the site safe and make preparations for the rebuild to commence, so it’s exciting to start seeing the first details of the new Royal Clarence, such as the impressive new façade.

“With work ongoing to draw up interior plans, we’re making great progress towards our final goal of returning the hotel back to the city and I’m looking forward to the year ahead, and hopefully to re-opening our doors once more in 2019”.

Andrew Brownsword, owner of The Royal Clarence, said: “We continue to thank all those involved in rebuilding The Royal Clarence – from the emergency services at the time of the fire, through to those involved in the rebuild today.”

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.