‘I’ll go to bat for you’ – Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami’s pay pledge to Hertfordshire firefighters

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami talks with firefighters at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami talks with firefighters at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has pledged to “go to bat” over Herts firefighters’ pay after a meeting with commanders and crew.

Watch commander Mark Burgess and station commander Bob Jackson talk with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bi

Watch commander Mark Burgess and station commander Bob Jackson talk with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

The 31-year-old Conservative heard from officers and rank-and-file firefighters when he spent two hours at Hitchin Fire Station yesterday.

The MP said it was unfair that Herts firefighters received less money than many public sector colleagues, particularly considering the cost of living in his constituency – and promised to make a stand against anyone who saw emergency workers as mere “numbers”.

NHS doctor’s son Mr Afolami told the Hitchin crew: “The cost of living is something I can go in to bat for you on, and very publicly. I really hear what you say about how this is often done without people actually thinking of you as individuals.

“I sympathise, and that’s where I come in. I can’t see why you shouldn’t have parity with what London firefighters get, and I want a letter from the fire minister explaining why you don’t. I’m willing to go to bat publicly and privately to ensure you get parity with London. It just seems fair.”

Watch commander Mark Burgess talks with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami at Hitchin Fire Station

Watch commander Mark Burgess talks with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant


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Firefighter Kev Smith told the MP that as 80 per cent of the fire budget went on staff, laying people off was the clearest way to save money – but that time and resources were becoming more and more stretched.

He said: “We’ll always have people want to sit on that truck and want to be firefighters, because it’s something to be proud of – but it’s growing thinner and thinner, and it’s going to break. We’ll get another Grenfell Tower and won’t be able to do anything.”

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Mr Afolami said: “It’s a lot easier to destroy something than to create something, and when it drops it takes ages to get back. What’s needed isn’t a splurge of money in one year.

“People often talk about efficiency in a financial way, and the problem is that sometimes you miss things that might not appear in the numbers.

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami talks with firefighters at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami talks with firefighters at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

“I’m not promising everything will be fixed in one day, but we can get more fairness, and I will push that point.

“What really annoys me in anything is when it just feels unfair. When things feel unfair and are unfair, you get resentment. When you get resentment, you get anger – and when you get anger, bad things happen.

“It’s really important that you don’t wait for something to go wrong before you fix it. I hear you, and that’s why I’m here.”

Hertfordshire has 450 full-time firefighters, with that number coming up to about 800 when on-call members are included. The Hitchin station is manned by just 12 people.

Watch commander Mark Burgess and firefighter Kev Smith show Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami aro

Watch commander Mark Burgess and firefighter Kev Smith show Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami around the engine at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Much of the discussion centred around how firefighters are now asked to do much more than just tackle fires, with services such as two-hour home safety checks during the pilot Safe and Well scheme, and thermal camera provision for police operations.

Station commander Bob Jackson told the MP: “I’m all for having joint emergency services because when things go wrong it’s often because thinking hasn’t been joined up.”

Watch commander Mark Burgess agreed, adding: “We’re doing so much for other people, and we don’t mind – but there’s no reflection of that. We’re almost doing too good a job.

“We’re public servants, and sometimes it feels like exactly that. We work for you – there’s a massive feeling of us and them.

Watch commander Mark Burgess and firefighter Kev Smith look on as Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afola

Watch commander Mark Burgess and firefighter Kev Smith look on as Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami gets to grips with the Lukas cutting equipment at Hitchin Fire Station. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

“We’re finishing the Safe and Well trial on Monday, but we’ve embraced that because we should be asking vulnerable people these questions if they have problems like falling over all the time.

“What should we do now? Ignore them? We joined this job for a reason, and that’s to help people.”

Mr Afolami – who was this week elected to the Public Accounts Committee – expressed support during his visit for the idea of a single unified emergency service for police, firefighters and paramedics.

He finished his visit with a whistle-stop tour of Hitchin’s main fire engine, during which he got to grips with the specialist cutting equipment used to free people trapped in crashed cars.

The firefighters received the visit well, saying they appreciated Mr Afolami’s frank answers and that he would be welcome back to the station in Newtons Way any time.

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