PEOPLE will end up getting hurt unless the government stops devaluing the fire service, says Hereford’s recently retired commander.
Long-serving firefighter Boris Borkowski was last month acknowledged by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service for his 30 years on the front line, training, teaching and saving lives.
The former Watch Commander for Hereford , Mr Borkowski still remembers his first blaze – a 1983 house fire on Oak Road in Credenhill.
However he is now concerned for the future of a cash-strapped service he has just left behind.
Cuts from central government have hit Hereford’s crews hard, while at the same time firefighters are being told that they will be required to remain in active service until 60.
“You will end up with 59-year-olds having heart attacks at the top of ladders, and people dying because they are not there to save them,” said Mr Borkowski.
“There are less call-outs now than before. It is not the toughest job in the world all of the time – but when it is hard, it’s as hard as anything out there.”
Hereford firefighters had planned on strike on Saturday night over the pension row, but it was postponed by the Fire Brigades Union.
Following strike action earlier this month, it would have been only the second time the FBU has been out in a over a decade.
And it is something, insists Mr Borkowski, no firefighter takes pleasure in.
“Don’t think for second firefighters want to go out on strike,” said Borkowski – who himself worked 17 Christmases in his 30 years.
“People die doing this job, but the government don’t seem to listen to reason.”
The county’s budget is ‘topped up’ by government funding ¬– funding that is now is in jeopardy as a result of public sector cuts.
Hereford will be left a similar sized force as Bromsgrove, a town almost half its size.
The result will be specialist ultra-heavy engines sent out to every day call-outs, leaving the county’s motorways without dedicated cover.
Having been on-hand for the 1993 Sun Valley blaze that took the lives of two colleagues, Mr Borkowski knows personally the value of a full-strength force in the event of a full-scale crisis.
“Emergency services are there so they can deal with an emergency. If the government don’t want the service, they should cut it entirely.
“They have said we aren’t productive – wait until they need us, then they’ll see how productive we can be.
“And don’t come whining when people end up getting hurt.”
Despite the current situation, the former soldier would recommend the career to those keen to make a difference.
A lot has changed since he fought his first fire, glove-less and in a woollen tunic – current firefighters now have computer software informing them how much, and how quickly, they have used their air supply and clothing to withstand a fire for up to 30 seconds.
The public today also has a much better understanding of danger, both from fire and on the roads.
However, Mr Borkowski added, fire alarms don’t stop fires, at best they stop casualties.
We will always need men to man the ladders – and he hopes the government realise this before it’s too late.
You can support the Hereford and Worcest Fire & Rescue's fight to stop the cuts by signing their online petition here .