Fears fire appliance is ‘white elephant’

A NEW �500,000 fire engine is finally expected to come into service in Suffolk this summer – two years late.

Safety concerns over the fire engine, which incorporates a turntable ladder and fire appliance in one vehicle, have kept it off the road since it was supposed to enter service in July 2008.

Gary Phillips, interim deputy chief fire officer, insists Suffolk residents will get “good value for money” when it finally goes on its first job from Bury St Edmunds this summer.

But he admits a number of options are still being investigated to reduce its weight, now including reducing water capacity, which will alter its performance.

A deal to buy the Combined Aerial Rescue Pump for �500,000 was struck by Suffolk County Council more than two years ago, but it never made its first day in July 2008 due to concerns over its safety.

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Before the weight issues emerged, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service won a top prize at the National Energy Efficiency Awards off the back of plans to introduce the new engine, which was heralded it for its environmental and financial benefits. It had also been used in a deal with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to reduce the amount of firefighters in Bury St Edmunds.

After months of speculation about the vehicle’s future within the service, it has been confirmed to the East Anglian Daily times that it will eventually be ready to take to Suffolk’s roads this summer – and the taxpayers will not foot any extra for modifications.

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But asked if the appliance had become a white elephant, Mr Phillips said: “I really do not see it that way at all.

“Our job is to get the best value appliance for the people of Suffolk and when we get it on the run, people will see that – I certainly would not think it is a white elephant.”

He said the extra two-year period had given them “opportunities to improve it further” that they would not have had.

But an ex-firefighter, who did not wish to be named, told the EADT: “I think that, generally, personnel at Bury are disappointed with the final proposal but feel there is no option but to reluctantly accept what will probably turn out to be a half-a-million-pound white elephant, which they will be stuck with for 15 or 20 years.”

Initial testing discovered there was a danger the turntable ladder could topple over. The vehicle was found to be 800kg over the legal road weight when fully loaded and the stabilising jack system was not working properly.

Suffolk was also due to be the first brigade in the UK to introduce the vehicle. But other fire services around the country have since experienced the same problems.

Mr Phillips said: “There is an option to reduce the water-carrying capacity but we have not made a decision yet.

“We have discussed a range of things we could or could not do to the vehicle but no further action has been taken on that.”

But back in December 2008, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council had reassured the public the water capacity would not change, saying: “The company has taken it away without prejudice and it means nothing will come back on us.

“They are looking to see what modifications they can do and they are going to make it lighter but they will not be taking the capacity away from water. They have other more technical ways of making it lighter without jeopardising the water space.”

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