Fire chiefs allay fears despite cuts

FIRE chiefs insisted last night Suffolk would be safer under a major modernisation plan that will see 12 firefighter posts axed.Suffolk Fire Service's Integrated Risk Management Plan 2005 (IRMP) will be officially unveiled for the first time today following months of planning and consultation with the public.

FIRE chiefs insisted last night Suffolk would be safer under a major modernisation plan that will see 12 firefighter posts axed.

Suffolk Fire Service's Integrated Risk Management Plan 2005 (IRMP) will be officially unveiled for the first time today following months of planning and consultation with the public.

At its heart is a strategy to tackle the worsening shortage of retained firefighters in the county, with proposals to cut the number of full-time specialist crews operating the turntable ladder in Bury St Edmunds by 12.

It is hoped this could free up resources to combat the lack of retained firefighters.


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The move had sparked concern among both firefighters and the public that fire cover would suffer.

But during a media briefing yesterday to discuss the IRMP, Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell argued the plan would strengthen the service's capabilities.

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"I understand the position of the firefighters and the strength of feeling they have," he said.

"The difficulty we have is more and more people live and work outside of areas where we live. There is less potential for us to recruit people and provide the retained side of the service. We have to look carefully to reduce the risk to the public.

"I understand entirely the sensitivities in relation to Bury. However, my view is if you look at it across the whole county and the added benefits of this plan, I think it will lead to a safer Suffolk."

During the meeting, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Ken Seager revealed since February this year there had been a concerning increase in the lack of retained firefighters in Debenham, Aldeburgh, Framlingham, Elmswell, Stowmarket, Felixstowe and Halesworth.

Mr Seager said while these stations were not at "danger levels" as yet, he warned of an increasing risk of an appliance not being able to attend an incident.

"We have made significant savings on the budget by removing 12 full-time officers at Bury. These resources will be used to procure more retained firefighters," he said.

"The IRMP makes absolutely clear there is no intention to take the turntable ladder away from Bury. Certainly some members of the public thought we were proposing to take the turntable ladder away.

"I'm happy to confirm that is not the case. We intend to replace it in the coming year with a brand new appliance."

Mr Seager said there would be no compulsory redundancies at Bury, and explained all 12 posts would be lost through retirement.

The IRMP includes a strategy to keep control room staff in the lead up to the introduction of a regional control room.

It also extends firefighters duties to rescuing people in difficulty in water, at the request of fire service staff. Previously, firefighters were limited in their abilities to do this due to health and safety regulations.

Another change will see the fire service pilot a scheme in Lowestoft that will see firefighters trained and supplied with equipment to keep heart attack victims alive in the event an ambulance is not immediately available.

Speaking after the meeting, Matt Hassey, chair of the FBU at Bury St Edmunds said: "We are still concerned about the jobs going. There's no way we can operate with 12 fewer people and expect to deliver the same level of service to the public."

In response to the news of a campaign to recruit and train more retained, part-time firefighters into the service, Mr Hassey said the authorities were "putting the cart before the horse".

"We haven't had enough retained personnel to get the ladders out as it is. If we (the permanent staff) are out on another call they would have to call in the part time staff and there's no guarantee the right ones could come in who know how to use it," he said.

He added: "At the end of the day, there will still be 12 fewer firefighters at Bury and no fewer vehicles. This will cost lives and property."

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