Local firefighters and the Fire Brigades Union are concerned that the West Midlands Fire Service’s plans to reduce fire cover could endanger the lives of vulnerable communities, especially Black and Minority Ethnic families and businesses, in some of the most deprived areas of the region.
Andy Dennis, chair of West Midlands Fire Brigades Union, told IRR News: ‘We as a union, along with members of the public and firefighters will be fighting these cuts at every level. It obviously gives us great concern that those members of the community most at risk from fire could be put at further risk as a result of these cuts. We are calling upon all members of the community to contact their MPs and local councillors to register their opposition to these disastrous cuts.’
Late in 2004, West Midlands Fire Service published proposals, as part of its ‘Integrated Risk Management Policy’, to halve the number of fire engines available, from two to one, between 12.00pm and 8am, across fifteen fire stations: Bournbrook, Central Birmingham, Erdington, Highgate, Handsworth, and Ladywood in Birmingham; Oldbury, Smethwick and West Bromwich in Sandwell, Coventry and Foleshill in Coventry, Solihull, Dudley and Brierly Hill in Dudley and Wolverhampton.
The proposals will have an unequal impact on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities in the region. Most of the fifteen stations targeted are in areas with large BME populations within those towns and cities. Central Birmingham, Erdington, Handsworth, Highgate, Ladywood, Oldbury, Smethwick, West Bromwich, Coventry and Foleshill, all serve substantial BME communities. For example, the fire stations at Ladywood and Highgate alone serve approximately half of Birmingham’s BME population.
The table below shows the ethnic make-up of some of the wards where threatened services are based:
- Handsworth 57% Asian, 21% Black
- Ladywood 24% Asian, 22% Black
- Foleshill 47% Asian, 6% Black
- Smethwick 30% Asian, 11% Black
According to concerned firefighters, the reduction of fire cover could threaten the credibility of the West Midlands Fire Service’s race equality plan, which promises to maintain a ‘continuous open dialogue’ with BME communities and to reduce the risk of fire and casualties in the community, but could make already vulnerable people more vulnerable.