NATIONALIZED FIRE SERVICE TERMINATED IN GREAT BRITAIN
Control Returned to Locol Units on April 1; Finonce Problem Causes Dissension
THE British Fire Service Act which received Royal Assent last year, became effective on April 1. For the past months local authorities in England and Wales had been engaged in preparing their fire defense organizations to assume responsibility immediately the nationalized Fire Service came to an end.
Readers of FIRE ENGINEERING may be interested to learn something of the difficulties which the British are having in “unscrambling the egg.” Prior _to nationalization there were about 1500 fire authorities: the new Act places the responsibility on only 141, some of which have already been combined, making the present number 133. This number may be further reduced if Home Secretary Chuter Ede exercises certain powers under the Act to compel amalgamation of fire defense where the population of counties or county boroughs (large towns) is less than 100,000.
Finance a Contentious Point
One of the most contentious points in the new scheme is finance. From the date the Act comes into force, fire authorities will have to raise 75 per cent of the cost of the Fire Services from rates, and only 25 per cent will be contributed by the Treasury. Though responsible for three quarters of the cost, fire authorities will not have a proportionate control of their fire brigades, for the Act reserves to the Home Secretary very wide powers regarding organization and administration of individual brigades. Many people are convinced that de-nationalization of Britain’s Fire Service is in name only, and that the central government is still maintaining the controlling interest. This condition is manifestly unfair in view of the meagre Treasury grant.
Another administrative problem for the new fire authorities arises out of pre-war control. Prior to 1941, councils of county boroughs (large towns), municipal boroughs and county district councils (urban and rural areas having populations under 50,000), maintained fire brigades. Under the new scheme, only county councils and county borough councils have the right to provide fire cover. It is obvious therefore, that the majority of the new fire authorities have had no experience in administering Fire Services, and this may lead to severe “teething troubles” unless foresight and imagination are exercised. Set against this are the recent appointments of Chief Fire Officers, all men of wide experience both under local authority control prior to 1941, and in the National Fire Service.
How the New Schemes Will Work
Local authorities in the United Kingdom are working against time to ensure there shall be no cessation in fire cover when they take over from the National Fire Service on April 1. In Middlesex, the county embracing many suburbs adjacent to the metropolis, an extensive scheme has been worked out mainly on the existing organization. It provides for an almost wholetime brigade with perhaps a small number of retained or volunteer firemen to operate certain additional appliances at certain stations. Some fire stations at present not in commission will be reopened, and six new ones will ultimately be built. The Middlesex scheme includes plans for mutual assistance with London and neighboring counties.
In arranging fire cover for towns and villages within their areas, county councils are meeting, opposition from the smaller authorities. Arnold (Nottinghamshire) asked for the county scheme to be amended because it was considered that six wholetime firemen were not sufficient. Hitchen (Hertfordshire) was also concerned because the draft proposals for Hertfordshire provide only ten full-time and 121 part-time firemen, six major pumps, eight water tenders, a pump salvage tender and a light stack drag, to cover an area of 112,000 acres with a population of 94,000 and 29,000 properties. Quite another view was taken by Lincoln City council when proposals for two separate fire stations manned by forty-five full-time and twenty-five retained personnel were put forward. A councillor said the estimated cost of $60,000 a year and the particulars of the service were too elaborate, and he was surprised no mention of industrial fire brigades and no scheme for mutual aid between private industrial and corporation Fire Services had been planned. Another councillor wondered why 70 men were now needed in the fire brigade when 26 were sufficient before the war; a city alderman considered one station should be sufficient for a city the size of Lincoln. Dissatisfied with the draft scheme, Lincoln City council referred it back for further consideration.
Cost of the New Schemes
Cost of the new Fire Services is troubling many authorities. In East Sussex the estimated total cost is $512,000 a year, but the government grant of $128,000 and $2,000 from various rents reduces the charge on the general county account to $384,000. This figure was based on National Fire Service peacetime requirements approved by the Home Office last September. According to the Chief Fire Officer designate this was the minimum charge for proper fire protection in the county. A councillor said that $80,000 could be saved in a full year by getting up the strength of retained firemen, and regaining much of the local interest which existed before the war. One emphatic view was taken by a member of Hythe (Kent) corporation; who remarked that it would be cheaper to let buildings burn than pay $2,000,000 a year for the new county Fire Service.
There have been complaints from some local councils of the lack of firemen allocated to particular areas, but on the other hand the appointment of staff officers as suggested by the Home Office in draft schemes has been criticized as unnecessary, and wasteful of manpower.
Generally speaking, the new fire authorities are anxious to employ more Volunteer firemen than the National Fire Service has considered advisable. Rural authorities in particular are contemplating the wider use of part-time firefighters as a means of offsetting the increased cost of the new Fire Service. Kesteven (Lincolnshire) county council is to have only 16 full-time firemen at the headquarters station in Grantham, but 140 volunteers at the eight rural stations in its area. The council has specifically stated its desire “to encourage the volunteer firefighter.” Littlehampton (Sussex), councillors have deplored the proposed draft establishment which they consider to be “. . . extravagant, both in manpower and cost. . . . ” Their firefighting force under the new scheme will consist of six full-time and 20 part-time men, yet before the war they had an efficient fire brigade of only one full-time officer and thirteen retained firemen. Littlehampton thinks the new Fire Service in its area could be run mainly by part-time firemen. The latest news is that Brighton Town council have thrown out the fire scheme, lock, stock and barrel as a protest against its cost of $200,000 a year. The council wants to know why the new scheme should cost so much more than their pre-war brigade which was run for $64,000 per annum. It is expected that the Home Secretary will now enforce a combination scheme for Brighton county borough and East Sussex county council, and the town will have to pay its contribution undet any circumstances. The protest has, however, shown the feeling against “cut and dried” central schemes which do not allow of local alterations and economies.
At the Start of Denationalization
The whole vexed question of administration and finance in connection with the new Fire Service has been aptly summarized by one of Britain’s local government journals, “The Surveyor,” in the following words: “…. Generally, the country districts are divided in their desires that the cost of fire defense shall not rise, that each district shall have adequate protection and equipment for resistance to fire, that the number employed as firemen shall not be excessive, but that each place is nevertheless, guaranteed a sufficiently numerous personnel …” The journal goes on to say that, “. . . probably no other question affecting local authorities calls for such expert, meticulous and highly proficient organization as will the requirements of the new firefighting defenses. That the district authorities give the matter an almost irritating degree of attention is a fact which should cause satisfaction to county councils and the Home Office.”