Retained firefighter shortage revealed

A SHORTAGE of retained firefighters in Suffolk is leaving some stations so short-staffed they cannot always muster a minimum crew, it has emerged.Fire chiefs say they need another 39 retained firefighters in the county – 10% of the total workforce.

By John Howard

A SHORTAGE of retained firefighters in Suffolk is leaving some stations so short-staffed they cannot always muster a minimum crew, it has emerged.

Fire chiefs say they need another 39 retained firefighters in the county - 10% of the total workforce.

On occasions, fire engines have to remain idle because the minimum crew of four is simply not available and crews need to come from another community, it is warned,


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Paul Dye, a retained firefighter for 11 years and station manager at Eye, said: "We need people, we are scraping by. Most retained fire stations are stretched, extremely.

"Sometimes there are not enough people to get the fire engines out. We need more people to come forward, if they do not the public will suffer.

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"Being a retained firefighter is well worth it, you get out what you put in, and it is like being part of a family. There are a lot of bad things in the world and this is a chance to do some good.''

Lee Howell, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said there were a number of fire stations in the county that have difficulty providing enough volunteers from the local community to ensure the fire engine is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

And a spokeswoman for the county council said there are currently 35 retained stations, 393 retained firefighters, and Suffolk needs around another 39 firefighters.

Firefighter John Hubble, mid Suffolk area commander, said: "Some stations are very short, certainly we are at Debenham and Framlingham.

"Where during the day there are not enough people available at stations, we take them off so they are not available to respond.

"For example in Debenham people go to work and there may only be one or two able to respond and the minimum crew is four people.

"So the station goes off for a period of time. The nearest station then has to respond to calls but that can lead to a delay, depending where the incident is.

"It's not usual for stations to come off rota, there's a lot of dedication among the retained crews, people will cancel days out rather than go away at weekends.

"It's not common, but is becoming a little more frequent where a station is not available. Our control manages it, they see the picture for Suffolk, can see where stations are short. We move appliances and people about sometimes too (to ensure the best cover).''

Lee Howell, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said: "This is largely as a result of demographic moves where people work away from the areas they live in and as a result are not available to provide cover during the day, which is generally when we are short crewed.

"Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service will shortly be running a targeted recruitment campaign in areas where we have difficulty in recruiting staff. It is recognised that this is an issue for almost every rural fire service in the country.

"Where appliances are not available for any reason, the next nearest appliance would be sent to any such call. It is also worth clarifying that this shortage of staff in some areas has nothing to do with modernisation or budget pressures, but is a reflection of changing social trends.

"Anyone who lives in a rural area who is keen to work as a firefighter, especially during the day, is encouraged to visit their local fire station in the first instance for more information about life as a part time firefighter. Subject to a medical and interview with an officer, we would be keen to have them help us protect the community they live and work in.''

County council deputy leader Peter Monk, who is a member of the Fire Service Joint Consultative Committee, said the lack of retained firefighters reflected the way people live and work nowadays and recruitment problems were a national issue, not something isolated to Suffolk.

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