Fire response times rise despite fewer call-outs, figures show

Suffolk's Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk's Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Fire response times in Suffolk have risen over the last eight years even though firefighters are attending fewer incidents, statistics have showed.

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

However the response times of Suffolk Fire and Rescue vehicles to emergencies have improved in the past year, with the county’s chief fire officer saying the long-term increase is mirrored by a national trend.

Government statistics show that in 2009/10 there were 838 primary fires - the main type of incident, affecting buildings and vehicles - in the county, with the total fire response time of 10mins 19secs.

In 2017/18 there were just 613 primary fire incidents, with a response time of 11mins.

However this year the response times for primary and smaller secondary incidents have reduced by almost 30secs.

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Other call outs - house fires, flat fires and non-residential incidents - have seen a rise.

Mark Hardingham, Suffolk’s chief fire officer, said the county’s response times have seen a “steady increase”, which broadly follows the national trend.

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He said: “As the latest report shows, there are areas where our own response times have got shorter and areas where they have got longer since last year.

“These small increases and decreases are not uncommon and the data is influenced by the number of incidents in urban vs rural areas and the proximity of those incidents to the nearest fire station.”

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigade Union’s Suffolk branch, also welcomed recent improvements to response times - but warned new schemes to reduce it may put people in danger.

He said he opposed plans to permanently reduce the number of firefighters required for a call-out from four to three following a trial in March last year.

He said: “We would be against it because we feel that the fire authority has a legal requirement to provide a fire service.

“But providing a fire service means you provide adequate resources for every incident.

“We think that sending three firefighters to an incident is not a suitable response for the problem.”

When the issue was raised at a recent cabinet meeting, Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for public protection, said: “Officers have spent several years looking at reduced crewing arrangements, and the new approach has been piloted at 10 stations for 12 months.

“We are not the only fire and rescue service doing this, and the key message is there is something a crew of three can do before any other appliance arrives, and I do think they have a role to play.”

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