west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Yesterday the Cost of Calling the Fire Brigade was a State Secret, Today it Is Not

UPDATE January 25th

£28,896 — that’s the approximate cost of putting out the Maesybont tyre and timber blaze, according to a standard formula used by the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which today opted to release the information.

The Fire and Rescue Service had a change of heart and released the figure, after earlier claiming it would be against the Data Protection Act, “in the interest of good will”, and because the questioner had argued that the information would be in the public interest.

The figure is based on a formula, based on one appliance and one crew at an hourly cost of £344. The fire lasted for just over 12 hours, so a single crew would have cost £4,128. As the bill was £28,896, seven times more, by implication there were, on average, seven crews tackling the fire.   

Amy Richmond, Democratic Services Officer, explained: “Please note that at present the information we record when attending incidents is not detailed enough to allow us to cost incidents accurately. Therefore we are only able to provide an approximate rate for call-outs. This is calculated on the basis of one appliance, plus one crew for the duration of an hour. On this basis we calculate the approximate cost of a call-out as  £344 per hour. This formula is used for all categories of incidents. 

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The original post

Think the Freedom of Information Act will provide you with hitherto unreleased knowledge?

Not necessarily so.

A huge fire at Maesybont, Carmarthenshire, on Bonfire Night – November 5th 2015 – left several local people with unanswered questions.

The fire, at a smallholding off the B4297 Gorslas to Llanarthne road, was a conflagration of timber and tyres lasting for more than 12 hours. When the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service tweeted about the blaze, the message advised nearby residents to keep their windows closed for “the next few hours”.

According to press reports at the time, up to 35 firefighters were tackling the burning pile, and a team from Morriston initiated their new Cobra  Coldcut  high-pressure water lance, which under very high pressure sprays water infused with tiny pieces of metal[1] which can cut through plastic, wood, metal and even concrete.

Tyres were a major element of the blaze, and it is odd that they were stored on what is described as a ‘smallholding’. So the question, asked under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, ‘Was the owner/occupier of the property in possession of a valid licence to store tyres on the site?’ is surely very relevant.

Yet the reply from the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, relayed by Amy Richmond, Democratic Services Officer, is as follows:

“Under Section 1 (1) (a) for the Freedom of Information Act 2000, I can state that Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service do not hold, or record any information on whether the occupier of the property was in possession of a valid licence to store tyres on the site. Therefore we are not able to provide the information you have requested.”

Maybe the Fire Service cannot identify premises with licences to store hazardous flammable goods — but wouldn’t public safety be better served if it did know?

The Fire Service is equally reticent about the cost of putting out the fire:

“I can confirm that we hold this information but it is exempt from disclosure, section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applying. ‘Personal Data’ is any information on a living individual (the ‘data subject’ as defined in the DPA[2]) which is stored by reference to a unique identifier that can be matched back to the data subject by the processor of the data, where those data are of a private or biographical nature.”

If the cost to the public of extinguishing a major fire cannot be revealed for fear of breaching the Data Protection Act, then it is more than time to amend the Act in the interests of knowledge, understanding – and the democratic right to know.

Should the cost of calling the Fire Brigade really be a State Secret?

PDR

[1] Fire magazine, ‘Lincs first to introduce new Cobra Coldcut equipment’ by Mara Schapiro, May 17th 2013

[2] Data Protection Act 1998

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