FIREFIGHTERS and the public will be at risk if controversial changes to the Island’s fire and rescue services go ahead tomorrow, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned.

The original Isle of Wight Council plans were thrown out earlier this year for more scrutiny, but the FBU said ‘nothing has changed’ in the new report.

Brigade secretary for the Isle of Wight, Spence Cave, said: “It’s exactly the same report, just packaged up a little different.”

The council’s scrutiny committee has recommended the plans be rejected until a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is published in six weeks’ time.

Mr Cave said: “We are pleased with the level of scrutiny as we have been in past scrutiny meetings.

“But what we are concerned about is if there is a three-line cabinet whip to get this through.

“I hope they are listening to what scrutiny have said.”

The FBU is concerned about reducing the number of whole-time firefighters crewing an engine from five to four. In the past, numbers of retained firefighters on an engine were reduced from five to four because they would be arriving at an incident with five whole-time firefighters.

The union says a crew of four firefighters is not able to provide the full range of aggressive firefighting tactics (such as committing firefighters into a burning building) in a safe, controlled and timely manner that a crew of five can.

In a statement, the FBU said: “Council cabinet members will be asking firefighters to  undertake working practices on a daily basis, which national guidance stipulates is for exceptional circumstances only.

"It is a complete misrepresentation of the agreed standards.”

Mr Cave added: “There is a real possibility a crew of four turn out to a house fire but cannot affect any rescues until backup arrives. They face a huge moral dilemma. Either break service protocol and begin rescue operations without the right support, for which they increase the risk of being seriously injured themselves, or they wait for backup and hope those in danger can survive.

“In most cases the firefighters will step in but it is a very dangerous and hazardous way of working. There maybe casualties as a result.

“Other Fire services may operate with four crew. It is not right, but at least they have the support of other immediate appliances within minutes. The Isle of Wight does not have that capability or the immediate support from its neighbouring County.”

Mr Cave said although the review may give more immediate cover at weekend, weekend cover from retained crews is not an issue.

Although the cabinet have said there will be no redundancies, Mr Cave said: “This is only because management have tactically placed eight firefighters on temporary contracts and can easily end those contracts. These are Island jobs that put money on the table of Island families and into the economy of the Island.”