Fire service shake-up revealed

THE biggest shake-up of Suffolk's fire service for more than 50 years has been unveiled – with a plan to scale down responses to automatic fire alarms at its heart.

THE biggest shake-up of Suffolk's fire service for more than 50 years has been unveiled – with a plan to scale down responses to automatic fire alarms at its heart.

Fire chiefs announced the proposals yesterday in a bid to overhaul the service's nationally-set standards.

If approved, the plan will free up more officers for lifesaving fire prevention work.

The fire bosses asserted there would not be any job losses in the changes made to the service and stations would not be shut down.

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They also insisted the blueprint, which is the first of its kind to be drawn up on a county-wide basis, was not the first step towards creating a regional fire service.

However, the fire brigade's union has already hit out after claiming it did not see the plan before its details were released.

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The blueprint – called the Integrated Risk Management Plan for 2004 and 2005 – was drawn up in response to last year's dispute over pay and modernisation.

Yesterday it was revealed only 36 of the 2,814 automatic calls that firefighters responded to last year turned out to be blazes.

Currently, if an automatic fire alarm goes off there is a predetermined response depending on what kind of building is involved.

But commenting on the plans to scale back responses to such calls, Ken Seager, deputy chief fire officer, said: "This would keep the resources available so that the fire engines are free to go to domestic fires and road traffic accidents.

"Rather than rush up and down the street on what the firefighters more often that not believe is a fool's errand they will be free to go to the fires where people are more likely to be in danger."

Turntable engines attended 655 calls last year but were only used on 29 occasions. The last time the turntable was used to save someone in a fire was in 1970 at a blaze at the Cliff Quay power station in Ipswich.

Mr Seager said: "We will not be sending the turntable ladder automatically, it will only be made available on the request of our own people.

"Next year one appliance will stand down and the other crew will go out in the communities in the county, especially rural places where the fire coverage is supplied by retained fire crews, and knock on doors to tell people how they can reduce the risk of a fire. It is a question of the best use of our resources."

Mr Seager added: "I am sure there will be an acceptance of the proposals among the firefighters in the service. There is not a firefighter in the county who would not want to be part of making Suffolk safer.

"Fire officers will have to adapt to get greater satisfaction in the fire prevention work instead of the more exciting issue of putting fires out."

Although the service was confident the plans would be backed by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), its county secretary, Paul Woolstenholmes, said he had not received a copy of them.

He said the union was "disappointed" the fire service publicised the changes before informing it of the proposals that would affect the workforce.

"These changes would of course affect the fire workforce and I am disappointed the major stakeholder in the service was not consulted and did not receive a copy.

"We thought we had turned a corner in our relations with the service as we had this meeting but then we find out from the press what was put in the draft plan."

Suffolk county councillor, Peter Monk, portfolio holder for public protection, said: "The idea is to move away from property based fire-fighting and more to people and that is a really important and integral part of the plan."

The draft Integrated Risk Management Plan will be adopted at the end of October if it is approved by the Suffolk County Council executive.

There will then be a public consultation period in the 12 weeks following, until January 31. The Fire Authority will consider the responses to the consultation, make any amendments and formally implement the plan by the end of March 2004.

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