This video has been posted here as it is the only record that we have of anything that was said at the presentation. Check 3:43 in, it's really quite scary and many thanks to Rod for his efforts.
Thorngate Halls, Gosport Wednesday November 18th 2015.
Hundreds of residents attended this consultation. In the hot seat for the HFRS was Neil Odin, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, supported by an array of top brass. It was a very passionate, and sometimes a very lively meeting, at times spilling over into heated debate. It was also a very lengthy meeting – 6.30pm until well past 9pm. Naturally, most of the proceedings centred on Gosport Fire Station. That wasn’t the purpose, but it was entirely understandable. Nevertheless, there was quite a spattering of Fareham residents there too – including myself.
From the perspective of a Fareham resident, the first question I asked of Neil Odin was about the data printed in a glossy accompanying pamphlet: Shades of FBC’s effort to support the building of thousands of more homes in Fareham, there then. Money seems to be no object when it comes down to propaganda! However, this pamphlet claimed that Fareham had a population of 85,510 residents. I pointed out that is was actually nearer 115,000 residents – quite a significant difference. I also pointed out that if FBC gets its way this will significantly increase over the next two decades. This was answered by Neil Odin thus:
"The former figure was the number of residents covered by Fareham Fire Station". In my view this was nonsense. Fareham Fire Station (No.17) ultimately covers the whole of the borough including a part of Gosport – so the actual figure could even be well in excess of 115,000 residents.
With regards to the proposed new houses: Neil covered this by saying that modern homes were better constructed and better protected by fire alarms. This may very well be true – although not everyone agreed – but smoke alarms etc do not prevent homes from catching fire. Increased populations must surely bring an increased risk to people and property – not only in fires but accidents on the roads etc.
The trouble with these meetings – as with CAT meetings and the like – is once the question has been asked the microphone moves on and there is no chance of cross examination - Very infuriating for many attendees! Anyway, the bottom line is this. HFRS propose to replace one front line water tender at Fareham with a smaller First Response vehicle. If this vehicle has the capability as indicated there is some merit in this move. However, it COULD be operated by two or four riders depending on the severity of the incident. This became a very contentious issue for the meeting in general and for good reason. The obvious question about what would happen if people were reported (i.e. people were trapped). A two-man crew would not in theory be able to affect a rescue and would require back-up. Neil Odin said that a back-up crew would be three minutes behind the first. My point about that would be if two appliances were eventually dispatched then it would make sense to always have the first response vehicle carrying four riders. From a personal perspective, I could not see my son standing idly by if a person was reported awaiting back up – especially if a child or children were involved. This would put firefighters at risk.
With the meeting lasting so long there were some very pertinent and serious questions asked – not always properly answered. My final point to the top table was this. For years we have been exalted by adverts in the media telling us that in an emergency every second counts. Well, judging by what I heard last night that maxim will be stood on its head.
Finally, we have constantly had Sean Woodward crowing about how the Tories have kept the Council Tax in Fareham at the same levels for seven years. However, it may come as a surprise to him that a majority of attendees last night would be happy to pay a small increase in their council tax to protect children and frontline services and many wanted a referendum on the issue. Indeed, because of the Tory cutbacks, the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service WILL be asking for an increase in council tax next year to make up for a shortfall in their government grant!
Thanks for that Michael