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Colchester: One-fifth of town firefighter posts cut

An ECFRS aerial ladder platform being used at a fire in Maldon. Picture courtesy of ECFRS.

An ECFRS aerial ladder platform being used at a fire in Maldon. Picture courtesy of ECFRS.

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Specialist firefighter positions at Colchester Fire Station are being cut.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) is removing 12 of the 60 crew based at the station in Cowdray Avenue from next year.

The move follows a decision to get rid of the rescue tender, which includes heavy rescue and water capabilities, and a specific crew for the aerial ladder platform (ALP).

Firefighters will instead “jump crew” aerial ladder platforms, swapping from the regular fire engines as required.

There are no plans for redundancy as the firefighters will be redeployed. The change, along with removal of the four rescue tenders in Essex, is being implemented county-wide.

However the Essex branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has rallied against the plans and launched a petition calling for the decision to be reversed.

ECFRS say the rescue tender at Colchester goes to on average fewer than two calls per week, and is not always used when it attends.

The decision to review the aerial ladder platforms (ALPs) came after that to remove the rescue tenders, as the cost of staffing the ALPs without the tenders would be £1.8million annually.

A study over three years’ of operations revealed each ALP was called out on average 50 times a year, with the Colchester platform going to an average of 32 calls per year.

A statement from ECFRS said: “Rescue tenders were first introduced when firefighters began to release casualties from traffic collisions in the 1970s. Since 2006, Essex Fire Authority has invested in specialist cutting equipment for all of its standard appliances which has significantly reduced the requirement for the rescue tenders to attend collisions.

“Before the rescue tender is removed from Colchester Fire Station the service will introduce even more enhanced rescue capacity across Essex as part of the introduction of a range of new appliances in early 2015.

“The service has five ALPs strategically located to provide the best cover. The jump crew plans will mean that there will be times when one of the appliances at Colchester is not available for further operational calls.

“However, the number of occasions this will occur will be minimal and in releasing personnel to assist in keeping the pumping appliance available, it is highly probable this decision will lead to appliances having a higher availability.”

Riccardo La Torre, chairman of the Essex FBU branch, said: “ECFRS want to save £5.9million in funding cuts, and have told us £3.5m has to come from frontline staff and how we crew engines. We don’t necessarily agree with that and want to see the figures.

“If the two crews are out already then the ALP is completely redundant, and this is expensive machinery. Historically they have been put in towns where they are most needed, but ironically now if the two crews go to a fire and a decision is made that an ALP is needed they will have to wait for one to come up from Chelmsford.

“It is hard to show in stats but anecdotal evidence reveals the important interventions the ALP has made in stopping a fire from spreading and saving lives.

“The firefighters at Colchester could be redeployed to the other side of the county, and Colchester could lose that specialist knowledge and experience.

“I would ask residents to support us by signing the petition, writing to MPs, councillors and fire authority members, and coming to speak to firefighters about the changes.”

To sign the petition against the cuts visit epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/67793.

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