Cutbacks could cost lives

UNION officials voiced fresh fears last night that the fire service in Suffolk is facing serious cutbacks - on the day more than 100 firefighters tackled the county's third major blaze in seven weeks.

By Danielle Nuttall

UNION officials voiced fresh fears last night that the fire service in Suffolk is facing serious cutbacks - on the day more than 100 firefighters tackled the county's third major blaze in seven weeks.

The Fire Brigades Union in Suffolk claims lives could be lost if the rumoured job cuts go-ahead, and the capacity to deal with incidents like that at Direct Table Foods in Bury St Edmunds yesterday seriously diminished.

It is gravely concerned that up to 24 firefighter posts and three fire appliances will be axed from the county as part of the fire service's latest risk assessment management plan to be introduced in 2005.


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There are also rumours that one of Suffolk's two turntable ladders will be manned by just by retained staff, leaving it available on a delayed turnout basis only.

Steve Brinkley, Suffolk secretary of the FBU, said: “I do fear there will be job cuts. It's very possible that lives could be lost. The risk of life being lost is increased when you decrease the fire cover.

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“We have had two major fires in Bury in a week and we are going to have less appliances and equipment and personnel to deal with those sort of fires if the rumours are true.

“Morale is quite low. We have just come through a pay dispute where we never gained the pay rise we were after, the whole service is being modernised at a rapid rate and the whole thing is being driven by cost as opposed to public need.

“The problem is we are working at the sharp end. Cuts can cost lives but management see it as an effective use of the service.”

A week ago, more than 150 firefighters tackled a blaze at the Premier Foods factory in Bury. The fire started at 1.30am and 40 workers had to be led to safety.

On September 20 this year, Bury's Leisure Centre was undergoing a £1million refurbishment when a blaze broke out. Sixty firefighters battled for 40 minutes to contain the flames.

Mr Brinkley said the union was concerned that decisions would be made solely on a cost-cutting basis rather than looking at local research.

“At the moment we have two turntable ladders in Bury and Ipswich and if rumours are correct it may be that one of those appliances might not be used as frequently as it used to be and that takes away a high rise rescue vehicle,” he added.

“I think the chances are it will be used less and in a year or two it will be lost. We have now got a tax by government on our pension scheme.”

Ken Seager, Suffolk's deputy chief fire officer, said: “The draft Integrated Risk Management Plan for next year will be published in the next few days, ending the speculation that has surrounded it.

“The draft plan has to be endorsed by the Executive Committee, and if endorsed will be the subject of three months of public consultation before any final decisions are made.

“The Fire Brigades Union, as well as other key stakeholders, will be actively engaged as part of that consultation.

“I will be happy to debate the professional merits of any of the proposals contained in the plan with them at that time.”

Fire authorities are now required by the Government to draw up an integrated risk management plan annually.

A draft plan is being drawn up for Suffolk County Council's executive committee in November.

If its proposals are agreed, a three-month public consultation exercise will be held before the final plan is adopted in 2005.

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