Fire plans prompt terrorism warning

FBU officials have warned that emergency services will be less effective against terrorist attacks if plans to create one fire control room for the whole of East Anglia are implemented.

FBU officials have warned that emergency services will be less effective against terrorist attacks if plans to create one fire control room for the whole of East Anglia are implemented.

Vince Jell, chairman of Suffolk FBU said plans to create a regional control centre for the East of England in Cambridge could lead to mix ups in procedure and delays in response times.

He was speaking after national FBU president Ruth Winters warned that emergency services would not be able to cope with terrorist attacks such at the July 7 bombings if Government proposals to reduce England's 46 fire control centres to just nine were implemented.

Last night Mr Jell told the EADT: "Regional control rooms are not the way forward. They will lead to delays and further problems because each fire service has a unique way of working.

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"Suffolk has different procedures to Essex, which in turn works differently to Cambridge, which works differently to Norfolk. Therefore if you have someone in the control room not locally trained then it could lead to confusion.

"This of course will affect response times and our ability to respond in an emergency. At the moment we are 300% faster than the police and the ambulance but this will suffer.

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"There are 43 police forces in England with 99 control rooms and 43 ambulance services with 44 control rooms. What the Government wants to do is turn 49 control rooms for 50 fire brigades into nine. It doesn't make sense - it's ludicrous.

"Moreover Suffolk County Council is setting aside £50,000 for staff retention and for funding the regional control room, which is money they have to find from somewhere."

Graham Noakes, regional secretary of the FBU in East Anglia said that under the current arrangements, each of the six county control rooms also had its own back up procedures in the event of an emergency or power failure – effectively 12 centres.

But the Government proposal would see just a single centre and single back-up, he said. Mr Noakes added: "There's a huge amount of anger over it all and we will use strike action as a last resort if necessary."

The Government is spending more than £1billion of taxpayers' money to establish eight control centres outside London, replacing 46 county council rooms.

In a property deal worth £23miilion the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has pre-let a three-storey 33,000sq-ft building at Cambridge Research Park for the east's regional control centre, which will cover Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Speaking yesterday to firefighters in Bournemouth Mrs Winters said: "The fire minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, has claimed that his grandiose, top-heavy proposal will make the response to terrorist attacks more efficient. But it will not. It will make the response less efficient, and it will cost lives."

Making reference to the current situation in Suffolk she continued: "As I speak, the union is fighting to protect 12 front line emergency response firefighting jobs. Their jobs are an indirect casualty of the control centre proposal, because Suffolk fire authority needs the extra money in order to keep its existing control centre functional in the transition period."

However Joanna Spicer, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for public protection said Mrs Winter's claims were "nonsense".

"It is not true and I feel sorry that she has been misinformed," she said. "For starters we are only losing three posts not 12 and we set aside £50,000 for staff retention and retraining in the control rooms this year."

She added that although Suffolk had previously expressed concerns about the regional control centre she was now confident that a robust system was in place.

"I am of the view that now a decision has been made we should support it," she said. "To continue to fight is not helpful. I have to do the best for the people of Suffolk and opposing the centre will get us nowhere."

And a spokesman for the ODPM said Mrs Winters allegations were "totally unfounded" and betrayed a "complete lack of understanding" of the Government's plans.

"Our proposals are not about compromising public safety, we are investing heavily to improve it," he added.

"This will lead to reduced response times and an overall more efficient service that saves more lives. The government would not support a policy that would lead to a worse fire service."

nMeanwhile 24 of Suffolk's 35 fire stations remained open during the latest period of strikes between 2pm and 7pm on Saturday and 3pm and 7pm yesterday.

Yesterday at 6.44pm an officer attended a fire alarm in Beccles but it was a false alarm.

On Saturday at 6.51pm a retained crew from Woodbridge helped a man who had fallen off the quay in Tide Mill Way and was sinking into the mud.

The crew called for assistance from a rescue tender, which was deployed from Princes Street, Ipswich.

The man was rescued by tying a line to his waist and pulling him out. He was taken to hospital at 7.18pm for checks.

There were also five automatic fire alarms but these were false alarms.

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