Fire service braced for shake-up

THE biggest overhaul of Suffolk Fire Service for decades will be revealed today – with a review of retained fire engines and cuts in specialist firefighter jobs on the agenda.

THE biggest overhaul of Suffolk Fire Service for decades will be revealed today – with a review of retained fire engines and cuts in specialist firefighter jobs on the agenda.

After months of intense speculation, the second phase of the service's modernisation plans will be unveiled.

The East Anglian Daily Times expects the draft report - called the Integrated Risk Management Plan for 2005 - to contain far-reaching changes to the way the fire service is run.

The shake-up is expected to include a review of the number of fire engines at retained stations with more than one appliance, and plans to half the number of firefighters dedicated to operating the turntable ladder.

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It is also believed to contain innovative ways of tackling a worsening shortage of available retained firefighters and a strategy to keep control room staff in the lead up to the introduction of a regional control room.

The first year of the Integrated Risk Management Plan saw a scaling down of the response to automatic fire alarms and halted the routine deployment of the turntable ladder to fires.

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The second phase promises to see more dramatic changes, as well as building on the work of the first stage of the plan.

Chief fire officers say it will continue to bring the fire service up to date while laying emphasis on life-saving fire prevention work.

The EADT understands that the draft report will contain plans to cut the number of full-time specialist crews operating the turntable ladder by 12, which is expected to affect staff in Bury St Edmunds.

This could free up resources to combat the lack of retained firefighters, which is becoming a growing problem in the county.

The plan contains a ground-breaking initiative to recruit more retained, or part-time, firefighters.

The move comes as more and more retained stations are out of action for periods of time as their part-time staff are not available for call-outs during the day.

This means some rural areas, like Framlingham, Saxmundham, Nayland, Debenham and Wrentham, do not always have fire cover from their local retained stations and appliances have to be dispatched from stations further away from the fires.

The EADT believes a proposal for a central team of retained firefighters has been mooted in the plan.

They will be able to undertake fire prevention work with vulnerable communities as well as be on call if a fire starts in an area where the local part-time firefighters are not available.

Where daytime retained fire stations have more than one fire engine, the extra appliances will be under review, the plan is expected to say.

This will only affect the second or third appliance, not the stations, with the fire service using a special Government system to assess the risk.

The stations that could be looked at in the review are Sudbury, where there are two engines, Colchester Road, in Ipswich, where there are three, Bury St Edmunds, where there are three, and Normanhurst in Lowestoft, where there are also three.

A strategy to keep control room staff ahead of the controversial, though seemingly inevitable, shift to a regional control room for the six counties in the region is expected as part of the plans.

During the transition it is feared that experienced staff may leave and be replaced with people who know less about the area and the service.

The plan will try and work out ways to combat this, as well as stress that the current control room and its technology needs to be kept up-to-date until the regional centre is up and running.

The blueprint has been drawn up following the 2002 dispute over pay and modernisation and in accordance with a Government framework.

The second year of the plan has been shrouded in speculation. Only this week the Fire Brigades Union voiced fears that rumoured fire cuts could cost lives after a massive blaze at Direct Table Foods, in Bury St Edmunds.

It expressed concerns that up to 24 firefighter posts could be axed along with three fire appliances.

In the west of the county rumours have abounded over the impact the plan could have.

In September it was suggested that one of the two appliances at Sudbury and others in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich could be scrapped if the supposed proposals were adopted.

Suffolk County Council's executive committee will consider the draft plan on November 16. If it is approved, there will be a 12-week public consultation before the final plan is considered in March 2005.

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