WATCH: Dramatic protests in Ipswich by firefighters angry at reduced crews
PUBLISHED: 08:51 13 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:51 13 September 2019
Furious protestors blasted "wrong and immoral" changes to on-call firefighter crews at a big protest in Ipswich - but Suffolk's fire service defended their plans.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union said they been left with no choice but to stage the demonstration outside Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters on Thursday, because they fear the changes are "putting lives at risk".
However Mark Hardingham, Suffolk's chief fire officer, said statistics showed that most blazes the service deals with are smaller in nature and can be dealt with by the new reduced on-call firefighter crews of three people, instead of four.
Where there are bigger incidents, he argued that a smaller crew could still make a crucial difference to making the scene safer while waiting for back-up.
"Would the public expect me not to send them or would they rather I sent them and there are things they can do to make it safer?" he asked.
"The majority of on-call firefighters want to do this because they want to respond."
He also said the changes only affect part-time, on call crews - who manage their duties alongside other jobs - and not full-time firefighters.
But Phil Johnston, chairman of the FBU's Suffolk branch, accused fire service leaders of "playing a game of chance".
He added: "They are taking a chance that a retained crew will not be faced with risk critical situations, where it could be possible they are put under enormous pressure.
"That's not acceptable. They're putting that moral pressure and risk on a team of three firefighters.
"In a situation like that, the moral pressure would be enormous.
"We don't believe they should be putting our lives at risk and using chance as a reason for it. The chance might be slim, but it's still there."
Former Labour county councillor Sonia Barker, from Lowestoft, said the changes were "absolutely wrong and immoral and should stop" when she spoke at the event.
She added that it was a "fire risk to both firefighters and residents".
Mandy Gaylard, Labour county councillor for the St Helen's division in Ipswich, said she was particularly concerned about the risk it could cause to people in high rise buildings.
The event was also attended by firefighters from across the region and national figures, such as FBU general secretary Matt Wrack and was followed by a march through the centre of Ipswich.
Mr Harding continued: "I accept and respect the fact that there are different views around this [smaller crews], but my assurance is that, as I've said, we have thought about this long and hard.
"We've put training in place. We have policy in place to assess the approach we are taking and we continuingly review how often it happens and any issues or events that occur when it does happen."