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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 13:06 GMT
Fire service shake-up unveiled
Fire engines
There is concern attempts are being made to cut 999 response times
Major plans to modernise the fire service have been published by the government.

The Fire And Rescue Services Bill was drawn up following last year's bitter nine-month pay dispute.

Nick Raynsford said the measures would shift the focus of the service towards "a more preventative and risk-based approach" to saving lives.

But a senior Fire Brigades Union spokesman dismissed the bill as window dressing to cover up planned cuts.

Expected to become law later this year, the proposed legislation would replace the Fire Service Act 1947.

It would set out in law, for the first time, the service's role - responding not just to fires but road accidents, floods and terrorist attacks.

The fact remains that despite the success of the service in attending fires, too many lives are still lost
Nick Raynsford
Fire and Rescue Service Minister

The government believes it also needs to change from a service that reacts to incidents to one that educates the public to prevent fires.

The secretary of state will have the power to procure equipment and services for fire and rescue authorities and to direct them on their use.

Responsibility for the service in Wales will be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales.

Wider role

Fire Services Minister Mr Raynsford said the bill, which has been welcomed by the Health and Safety Executive, was "a crucial step forward " in the government's modernisation agenda for the service.

"We all recognise the professionalism and bravery of firefighters in what remains a dangerous job, but the fact remains that despite the success of the service in attending fires, too many lives are still lost," he said.

"What we need is greater focus on preventing fires in the first place. The bill will help shift the focus of the service towards a more preventative and risk-based approach through, in particular, the new duty to promote fire safety.

"For the first time the wider role of the service in dealing with road traffic accidents, responding to the greater threat posed by terrorism and environmental disasters such as serious flooding will be put on a proper statutory footing."

Response times

But the FBU is urging the government to pilot the ideas first to prove they work.

And there is concern attempts are being made to cut 999 response times and reduce the number of firefighters turning out on calls.

The long-running fire dispute ended in June with agreement on a 16% pay increase.

Firefighters received a gradual increase in their pay packets and by next summer the average wage will be 25,000.

The June deal ended the long running firefighters' dispute, which saw Army Green Goddess vehicles replacing fire engines.

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