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'Dangerously reduced' crew prompts fresh call for changes to fire service

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:46 09 July 2019

Phil Johnston, chairman of Suffolk FBU, says it is time for change in the county's fire service. Picture: Archant

Phil Johnston, chairman of Suffolk FBU, says it is time for change in the county's fire service. Picture: Archant

Archant

Crews aboard two fire engines were "dangerously reduced" as they were sent to deal with a house fire, a union has said.

Suffolk's branch of the Fire Brigades Union is demanding widespread improvements to the county's fire and rescue service. Picture: Nick ButcherSuffolk's branch of the Fire Brigades Union is demanding widespread improvements to the county's fire and rescue service. Picture: Nick Butcher

The declaration from Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) comes after firefighters were called to Carlton Colville on Thursday when a pan fire filled a property with smoke.

With fire crews from Lowestoft already at a fire on Corton Cliffs, teams from Wrentham and Beccles had to be sent and took at least 17 minutes to arrive.

Although the appliance from Beccles had four firefighters on board, Wrentham's had just two. The minimum number of personnel that should be sent to a house fire is eight.

With Suffolk FBU pushing for a minimum of five firefighters per engine in its 'Rescue Suffolk Fire' campaign, chairman Phil Johnston says the incident has emphasised a key demand.

Mark Hardingham, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services chief fire officer, says crews usually arrive at emergency situations within 10 minutes. Picture: Mick HowesMark Hardingham, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services chief fire officer, says crews usually arrive at emergency situations within 10 minutes. Picture: Mick Howes

"Things have really been brought to a head by this," said Mr Johnston. "Reduced crewing is one of the main problems we face as a service.

"Our day-to-day operations revolve around the training we've received, so we know how to approach incidents in a specific way - but there is no training scenario which caters for a reduced crew of three or less.

"When you go to a house fire, you simply must have a certain number of firefighters - four in each crew at the very least. A reduced crew cannot put all the required safety systems in place."

Yesterday (July 8) afternoon the county's firefighters took their campaign to Westminster, where they lobbied MPs on a host of issues including the need for improved response times.

Phil Johnston, chairman of Suffolk FBU, says it is time for change in the county's fire service. Picture: ArchantPhil Johnston, chairman of Suffolk FBU, says it is time for change in the county's fire service. Picture: Archant

Among the FBU's other demands is a system which prioritises frontline services ahead of "back-room projects", while the union is also calling for training to take place as part of day-to-day jobs.

In response to the crew deficiency on Thursday, Suffolk's chief fire officer, Mark Hardingham, said: "Two engines from Lowestoft South were already at a fire on Corton Cliffs when we received the call to Carlton Colville.

"The next nearest fire engines from Beccles, Wrentham and Norfolk responded, and a small fire in a saucepan was quickly extinguished by firefighters.

"This combination of events does not happen often and on average the first fire engine will arrive at an incident within about 10 minutes of being alerted."

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