Figures show lack of daytime cover in some rural parts of Suffolk
Rural fire stations in Suffolk increasingly struggle to respond to 999 calls because they cannot muster a crew, new figures reveal.
In some areas, such as Nayland, Wrentham and Saxmundham, the fire crews are typically “off the run” for much of the week, according to a Freedom of Information request.
This leads to a longer wait for a response to a fire or accident while the next closest engine is sent.
The problem has been fuelled by difficulties recruiting retained firefighters who can live or work in their local community, and is particularly acute in rural areas where house prices are high and job opportunities limited.
The news comes as the county council looks at ways of reducing fire service costs – including removing full-time firefighters from central Ipswich and relying more heavily on part-time retained fire crews.
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Last night, chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said retained firefighters had to live or work within five minutes of their station – and this could make it difficult to recruit crews.
However across the county 25 people were currently being interviewed and some should be training from March.
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Mr Hardingham added: “There are some areas where it is historically very hard to recruit new firefighters and this can impact on the fire engine availability.
“The availability of on-call firefighters can also change quite quickly through a change of personal circumstances.
“For example, a firefighter who provides cover during the day, Monday to Friday, may get a new job which means he/she can no longer provide that cover.”
Some smaller stations have the greatest difficulty in mustering a crew – at least four firefighters, including a station officer and a driver, are necessary before an appliance can turn out. Most fire stations have 11 firefighters on their books, but it can be a challenge to recruit part-time crews.
The FoI request shows several stations were “off the run” for more than half the weekday hours over a three-year period.
And in 2013/14 Nayland fire station could only offer cover to the local area during working hours only 11% of that year – and was off the run for more than half the time.
It is often difficult for the fire service to find crews for rural fire appliances during the weekdays because many firefighters will be out of the area at work.
The fire service re-organisation is only proposing the closure of one fire station – Wrentham, between Southwold and Lowestoft.
The figures show that over the last two years that was unable to muster a crew during weekdays for almost half of the time – and the fire service says that its crew members would be able to transfer to the stations at Reydon or Lowestoft South after closure.
The larger retained stations did not have much difficulty in mustering crews – towns like Felixstowe, Stowmarket and Mildenhall were available for at least 99% of the time.
As well as Nayland there have been problems with raising crews in other small rural stations, including Orford, Saxmundham, Hadleigh, Framlingham, and Eye.
Opposition Labour leader at Suffolk County Council, Sandy Martin said the figures showed how important it was for the county to maintain its full-time fire crews.
He said: “Retained fire crews do a very good job providing support especially in the rural areas of Suffolk. But these figures show the importance of the spine of full-time firefighters who provide the central cover that the county needs.”