Cuts will lead to more firefighter deaths, union warns ahead of protest

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

Firefighters are at greater risk of being killed in action because cuts are leaving them dangerously stretched, a union has warned ahead of a mass demonstration.

The Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union says it has "no choice" but to stage a protest outside the county council headquarters on Thursday, September 12 due to changes it believes has put crews at risk.

Changes have been brought in this year where on-call crews are staffed by just three firefighters for any type of incident.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue said a trial last year showed smaller crew levels improved staffing coverage overall.

It has also been argued that three firefighter crews can make a crucial difference at large incidents, before back-up arrives.

Phil Johnston, Suffolk FBU chairman, said he accepted the fire service needed to adapt and modernise - but felt many of the cuts had gone too far.

"We had to do something about it," he said of the planned protest outside Endeavour House on Thursday, September 12 at 1pm.

"As a union which stands up for the health, safety and protection of the public, we felt we had to do something.

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"We're really getting to rock bottom. We can't get much lower than what we're currently providing for a fire service."

The protest is part of a wider campaign by the FBU to highlight the difficulties the service is facing.

It has also included the FBU visiting Westminster to lobby MPs about the changes.

"We feel that the public should be made aware that they're not getting the fire service they should be getting," Mr Johnston said.

"They're not getting that because crews of three might be turning up to a house fire.

"We need to do something to reverse what's going on.

"We know from instances around the country that some of these things - not having enough personnel - are what to lead to more firefighter deaths."

Asked if he felt the changes could lead to more firefighter deaths in Suffolk, Mr Johnston said: "Yes."

Chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said: "I'm very proud of our fire and rescue service and of the firefighters, officers and non-operational staff who work tirelessly for local communities.

"Suffolk is a safe place to live, work and travel from a fire service perspective and as chief fire officer I am committed to both public and firefighter safety.

"If you ever need the fire service in an emergency then dial 999 and the right number of professional, trained firefighters will respond from your nearest fire stations - and on average will arrive within about 10minutes of being alerted."

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