Police, Fire and Ambulance Services are set to merge as part of a radical shake up of the emergency services in the UK, under Home Office proposals which will see police forces and fire services across the country joined together under one chief officer in each region. Ambulance Services may also have to interlink and share premises with fire and police services as part of the proposed plan.
The controversial plans seen by Emergency Times have fueled concerns after it emerged that a chief fire officer could end up managing and operating a police force without any crime fighting experience in a move which is designed to improve efficiency and save money as the Government’s austerity drive continues.
This is not a new concept in the UK where Fire and Police Services operate under a shared agreement, using the same buildings, training rooms, offices and training yards, however, each service operates separate to and independent of each other within the same premises such as the case in Northampton and Hampshire for example and the Community Emergency Tri-Service Station in Cornwall.
In Northamptonshire, the Fire and Police Service currently share resources, and plans have been underway since 2013 to merge the services of both the fire and police service fully, a move which is likely to happen soon. A shared vehicle, a Rural Intervention Vehicle has been in use by Northampton Police & Fire Service for some time and has been working well in the community.
Rank and file police officers called the move ‘policing on the cheap’ and have warned the move could see fire fighters take on some officer roles, while a Fire Brigade Union said any merge of this kind would damage the public trust in its members if they were associated with the police and law enforcement. It is expected that while the current Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) would take over oversight of fire services in their area and be responsible for both budgets, the two emergency services would however remain distinct but would share facilities, back room staff, IT systems, call centres and other common services, in a move
A consultation document seen by EmergencyTimes.com has revealed the Home Office is planning to remove a rule that currently prevents a chief fire officer from applying to become a chief constable unless he or she has previously worked as a police officer. Removing this rule would mean that a fire chief could apply for and be appointed as the head of a merged police and fire service even if they had no policing experience.
Chief Constable Lynne Owens, lead on emergency services collaboration for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “It was surprising to see the suggestion that a Chief Fire Officer would be eligible to apply for the Chief Constable post included in the Government’s proposal. This seems to suggest a fundamental change to the current position in which Chief Constables hold the office of Constable and are experienced in the exercise of those powers.”
The Home Office insisted that under any changes no police officer would become a fire-fighter and no fire-fighter would be given the power of arrest.
The consultation said new legislation would allow PCCs to take on the responsibility of the fire and rescue authority in their area “where a local case is made that it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety”.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said there is “absolutely no case” for PCCs to take over fire and rescue services. He said: “These are badly thought out proposals from a government which couldn’t care less about emergency services or those they employ. Police are law enforcers, while fire and rescue is a humanitarian service with a very different remit and culture”.
“Firefighters need to be seen to be neutral within the communities they serve. Links with law enforcers will damage the much needed trust and reputation firefighters have built up in neighbourhoods over decades, trust they depend on to gain access to peoples’ homes when needed for fire prevention and rescue work” he said.
Policing Minister Mike Penning said: “It simply doesn’t make sense for emergency services to have different premises, different back offices and different IT systems when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries” while Fire Minister Mark Francois said the number of fires is falling each year, adding: “We want to remove any bureaucratic barriers to joint working and allow local leaders to make the arrangements that work best for them.”
David Lloyd, of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said they supported the proposals while “recognising that for a range of reasons … not every area will wish to pursue these new opportunities.”
Earlier this year, Andrew Hichens became the first UK Tri-Service Officer who is a qualified fire-fighter, police officer and ambulance paramedic.