The fire service has denied claims it was “stretched too thinly” to adequately cover a fire which tore through a bungalow in Crawley.
Firefighters were called to Celandine Close, Broadfield, at 9am on Saturday March 14 after arsonists set fire to the empty home.
Following the blaze, campaigners opposed to imminent budget cuts within the fire service, claimed the fire had “exposed serious failures” when it came to ensuring the county’s fire engines were properly crewed.
Tony Morris, of the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts group issued a statement claiming only six of a possible 22 engines in the county were crewed when the Celandine Close fire broke out.
Mr Morris said: “When called to a fire at Celandine Close in Crawley, only one fire engine at Crawley and one at Horsham had sufficient firefighters to crew them. When they arrived at the incident and requested help it had to come from Surrey.
“Two other fire engines at each of these stations were not crewed, and there were no fire engines crewed at East Grinstead, Haywards Heath or Turners Hill.”
Mr Morris’s concerns were echoed by Labour members of West Sussex County Council.
Referring to the £1.6million of cuts which will see the loss of one engine and 10 retained firefighters from Crawley, Cllr Michael Jones (Southgate & Crawley Central) said Mr Morris’s claims had left him “extremely concerned “.
He added: “There are serious questions that need to be answered. We must be certain that our own fire service can cope at the smaller size the Tory council is imposing on West Sussex.”
A spokesman for West Sussex Fire & Rescue confirmed the Celandine Close fire was attended by one engine from Crawley, one from Horsham, one from Reigate, in Surrey, and a command support unit from Haywards Heath.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Gavin Watts, said the crews met their attendance time target and the fire was extinguished within 50 minutes.
Questioning the accuracy of Mr Morris’s claims, he added: “At the time the fire broke out, there were actually 22 fire engines available to respond across West Sussex.
“Our appliances are county-wide assets and we move them around to match risk and demand, and provide the best strategic cover.
“After April 1st we will still have 35 fire engines to cover the county. Our plans are aimed at improving the overall availability of fire engines not reducing them.”