Felixstowe: Town’s fire crew faces the chop

FELIXSTOWE/IPSWICH: Shock waves echoed through Felixstowe today over plans for major cuts to the fire service.

The town’s permanent fire crew is in line for the chop despite community leaders warning the move could cost lives.

Meanwhile, the Ipswich turntable ladder will no longer be staffed all day every day.

In a raft of proposed cuts, Suffolk County Council has put forward plans to cull 14 firefighters permanently based at Felixstowe in favour of an “on-call” fire station, meaning emergencies would be dealt with by retained crews or full-time staff based nearly 12 miles away at Ipswich’s Colchester Road headquarters.

The council’s risk assessment admits it would take longer to respond to emergencies – “impacting marginally on community risk” – but concludes that “this increase is acceptable”.

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But community leaders today expressed their disgust at the proposed changes.

Felixstowe mayor Jon Garfield said: “I’m absolutely horrified. We have got a lot of older properties around Felixstowe and we have had arson attacks in the past.

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“Also, older people are probably more frightened of fire than younger people because they can’t get out as quickly.

“It just takes my breath away that they can even suggest such a thing. This could cause fatalities without a doubt and I can see it being a recipe for disaster.”

It is thought the move would save an estimated �210,000 – 1.9 per cent of the total fire service budget.

Andy Vingoe, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union, also reacted with horror at the suggestion.

“We’re appalled by it,” he said. “The people of Felixstowe are going to have a much-reduced service and a lot of local knowledge is going to be lost.

“The time it takes a fire engine to get to them could be increased substantially. We will definitely be campaigning against it.

“We’re hugely upset by it and we think it’s a danger to the community of Felixstowe. After all, they’re not going to get a reduced council tax.”

Meanwhile, in Ipswich, the turntable ladder could take longer to deploy if staff have to come in from home when it is needed.

Deputy chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said this would bring Suffolk in line with other fire services.

He said: “There is a perception that we use the aerial appliance to rescue people from tall buildings. It could be used for that, but that would be very rare.

“It’s normal use is for firefighters to get on top of a fire in, say, a warehouse and tackle it without putting themselves at such a great risk.

“In such a circumstance, a delay of five or ten minutes in getting the aerial appliance to the fire will not make a great deal of difference.”

The fire service is also planning not to go to every automatic fire alarm – although judgements will be made.

Mr Hardingham said: “If we get an automatic fire call from a big store in town at 3pm on Saturday afternoon when it is very busy, we will ask staff there to check that there is a fire before we turn out.

“If we get an automatic alarm call from a hotel at 3am we will of course turn straight out.”

n What do you think of the proposed cuts to Felixstowe fire station? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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