New bid to recruit retained firefighters to boost part-time fire stations across Suffolk
12:00 26 January 2016
Fire service bosses are considering changing some of their rules for part-time fire fighters in a bid to ensure more stations have cover for more of the week.
Figures we have seen show the extent to which many rural stations have been “off the run” because there are not enough firefighters available to muster a crew – especially during weekdays when the on-call staff may be at work away from their station.
One day last week eight rural fire stations were unable to muster a crew for at least four hours because they did not have enough part-time firefighters available.
To be able to staff an appliance there needs to be at least four firefighters available – although for some services three can be mobilised – including a driver and someone of station officer rank.
Most stations have 11 firefighters on their books, and the maximum that can turn out on an appliance is six.
Chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said 18 new firefighters had been selected and were due to be fully trained over the next few weeks.
A further recruitment campaign had been launched leading to applications from a further 75 people – these numbers would be reduced when various health, physical, and written tests had been completed but Mr Hardingham said he hoped this could result in another 18-20 firefighters joining the ranks of the part-timers later in the year.
He said: “It does take quite a long time to test and train up a firefighter from the point when they make the first application to when they can join the crew – it can be up to seven or eight months.
“Given that someone can hand in notice and leave, you can see it can take some time to get a replacement in.”
Mr Hardingham said some fire stations would be able to have more than 11 firefighters attached to them in a bid to ensure there was greater availability.
Part-time firefighters are expected to be available for emergency calls for 120 hours a week – to be within a five-minute drive to their fire station. They are also expected to attend a two-hour training session once a week.
For that they are paid 10% of the full-time firefighter salary, and are paid the hourly rate for firefighters when they are out on an emergency call.
“There is a major commitment and some people are just not able to make that. Also some employers are not willing for their staff to be available when they are at work because they cannot spare the time,” said Mr Hardingham.
A few part-time firefighters are attached to two stations – one near their home and one near their work, but that is a small minority.
What has become more common over recent years is that full-time firefighters are also on-call firefighters at the station nearest to their home.
Mr Hardingham said: “We are trying to speak to employers to make them more aware of the benefits of having part-time firefighters in their workforce, of the training we give them and other advantages.”
He is also looking to use individual full-time firefighters to plug gaps in the areas where there is no cover during the day.
He said: “We have sometimes sent our second full-time appliance from Princes Street (Ipswich) to Debenham if the appliance there, at Eye, and Stradbroke are all off the run.
“Rather than sending an appliance with four firefighters up there, in future we might want to send three firefighters out – to Debenham, Eye and Stradbroke fire stations because they might be able to work with the part-time staff that are about.
“That way we could make three fire appliances available.”
There have been previous attempts to increase the availability of part-time firefighters, but Mr Hardingham said he was confident his moves would improve the cover.
Cabinet member for public safety Matthew Hicks said it was vital to increase the availability of part-time crews who offered excellent value to the service – a one-vehicle retained station costs about £100,000 a year, while a one-vehicle full-time fire station costs about £1m a year to operate.