Why are firefighters becoming special constables?
By Joe Harker
With the police in England facing budget cuts and straining under the pressures of doing their jobs while making ends meet a number of different solutions have been tried.
The fire brigade has also suffered from austerity, though the lower number of fires being set and responded to has meant many firefighters have needed to take on more responsibilities in their communities to keep their jobs.
In the South West of England one potential solution has come up, though it has been met with skepticism and opposition from certain areas.
Seven members of Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service have been trained as special constables in an effort to make up for a lack of police officers in rural areas.
Although their primary responsibility will still be putting out fires and responding to emergency calls they will have the power of arrest and deal with many other responsibilities the police take on.
The scheme will have two years of funding supplied by Alison Hernandez, the police commissioner for Devon and Cornwall. The project could then be further extended if it is considered a success.
Supporters of the scheme say it will help reduce crime with participant Kevin Pearce saying he thinks having more responsibilities will be "really beneficial" to his local community. He said he was looking forward to being the first of potentially more to take on more responsibilities.
The Counter Claim:
Writing in The Guardian, Lynne Wallis thinks training firefighters as special constables is a "terrible" idea designed to cover for the severe harm budget cuts have caused.
She argues that such a move should not be viewed as an embodiment of a strong communal spirit but should instead be seen as an alarm that Devon and Somerset's police service is horribly underfunded and reaching a point of desperation.
Wallis also insists that the police and fire services should be kept apart as one is devoted to law enforcement and local policing while the other is an emergency response service that puts out fires.
She argues that firefighters maintain a level of public trust because they are an organisation independent from the police, suggesting some people might not call the fire brigade if they suspect a special constable will be among the emergency responders.
While firefighters have been feted for taking on additional roles due to the decline in the number of fires joining up with the police is perhaps not what people had in mind.
Devon and Cornwall police force has lost over 600 officers in the past decade due to austerity inflicted budget cuts. At a more national level a number of police forces are experiencing difficulties with funding and are said to be hitting crisis point.
Many police forces across the UK have been hit so hard by austerity that they are warning they can no longer guarantee public safety.
Dave Green of the Fire Brigades Union and Simon Kempton of the Police Federation both argued against the project, insisting it would blur the lines between law enforcement and emergency responders.
Cullompton, Crediton, Dartmouth, Honiton, Okehampton, Newton Abbot and Totnes are the communities due to have the new special constables later in the year.