Firefighters tackle two major blazes

A FIRE union boss has issued a warning about planned cutbacks to the service in Suffolk after scores of firefighters tackled two major blazes in the county within hours of each other.

A FIRE union boss has issued a warning about planned cutbacks to the service in Suffolk after scores of firefighters tackled two major blazes in the county within hours of each other.

More than 55 officers fought tirelessly to save a thatched cottage in Woolpit on Saturday after its roof became engulfed in flames.

Just hours earlier 10 engines, including two turntable ladders, had been called to a blaze at a recycling plant in Haverhill.

Fire chiefs praised the efforts of retained crews in the operations and appealed for more people to join up as retained firefighters.

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But Vince Jell, chairman of the Suffolk Fire Brigades' Union (FBU), said the incidents also highlighted the importance of the service's full-time staff at a time when job cuts are looming.

The service is currently undergoing a review which could see the number of specialist staff operating turntable ladders cut by 12, expected to affect staff at Bury St Edmunds, and a possible reduction of engines at retained stations.

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Mr Jell said: "If you get one or two protracted incidents on the same day, you need all the personnel you can muster.

"They don't have to be big incidents to tie up several crews, because of health and safety guidelines, and we need to have a broad base of resources.

"The training implications for retained staff to man the turntable ladder are horrendous and, if we saw two incidents close together like this after cutbacks, it would be very difficult to cope.

"All of our resources are invaluable and desperately needed – and to cut them back would be pure folly."

Patrick Dacey, assistant divisional officer with Suffolk Fire Service, commended the men and women from eight crews - six of which were retained – who helped tackle the fierce blaze which caught hold in the roof of the cottage in Woolpit at around 3.30pm.

"We have had to rely heavily on retained fire crews to help us with this fire, and without them our job would have been a lot more difficult," he said.

"A huge amount of Suffolk's resources had been used up with the fire in Haverhill, and to have two incidents of that size in the same county, in such a short space of time, provides us with a huge challenge."

Mr Dacey added: "Luckily the owners of the cottage managed to get the contents of their house to safety, and there was no internal damage as we managed to contain the fire in the roof and stop it spreading to the rest of the cottage.

"The priority with any fire of this kind is to pull the thatch down as fast as we can, because by doing this there is a much greater chance of saving the structure of the cottage."

It took firefighters six hours to extinguish the fire at the Haverhill Transfer Station and Recycling Centre, on the town's Homefield Business Park in Homefield Road, which began just before 4am on Saturday.

Responding to Mr Jell's comments, Peter Monk, portfolio holder for public protection at Suffolk County Council, said: "In any big fire we help out other counties and other counties help us.

"It's worth noting we are not taking the turntable ladder away from Bury - there are plans for a new machine there. It's just the crewing that will be different and it will be more beneficial to the public.

"We have to be very careful. It's wrong for people to keep scare-mongering. We are in the consultation process and are looking at all the elements of it."

Mr Dacey urged anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 who is thinking about a career as a retained firefighter to contact service headquarters in Ipswich on 01473 588888.

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