Union hits out at fire service cuts

A MAJOR overhaul of the fire service - which could see specialist jobs cut and a review of some retained fire engines - has met with union opposition.Steve Brinkley, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has spoken out against some of the proposals unveiled in the second phase of the county's plans for modernisation.

A MAJOR overhaul of the fire service - which could see specialist jobs cut and a review of some retained fire engines - has met with union opposition.

Steve Brinkley, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has spoken out against some of the proposals unveiled in the second phase of the county's plans for modernisation.

The service's long awaited Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for 2005 was made public on Saturday.

However Mr Brinkley said the union has still not received a copy of the draft report even though it is the major stakeholder.


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He said: “The FBU is not opposed to modernisation but the IRMP is not about modernisation, it is about providing more of a service cheaply. As a result, someone is going to get hurt or injured.”

The blueprint for modernisation includes a review of the number of fire engines at retained stations with more than one appliance and plans to half the number of full-time firefighters dedicated to operating the turntable ladder by 12, which is expected to affect staff at Bury St Edmunds.

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Mr Brinkley said: “We must not look at the Suffolk IRMP in isolation. Around the region it looks like, if the proposals go through, there will only be two high-rise vehicles. At the moment Suffolk alone has two.

“That means the fire cover given to people who live above the sixth floor is going to be greatly impaired.

“Last year we said in our submissions we thought that the proposal to send one appliance to automatic fire alarms could be detrimental to health and safety.

“We have had two major fires in Bury St Edmunds and only one appliance initially went to both. The more we cut back the more it increases the impact on health and safety.

“Not only are turntable ladders used as rescue vehicles in large buildings, generally for firefighting, aerial platforms are also used to assess the situation, to bridge things and go across rivers, they are multi-functional. They are an essential part of our equipment.”

Mr Brinkley did welcome the draft plan's inclusion of proposals to tackle the worsening shortage of retained firefighters, which is affecting fire cover in some rural areas of the county.

It could see a central team of retained firefighters created, who will be on call if a fire starts in an area where the local part-time firefighters are unavailable.

However Mr Brinkley said if there were more whole-time firefighters they could be sent out during the day.

The plan also contains plans to keep control room staff amid fears that many could leave as a regional control room is set up.

Mr Brinkley said: “The whole thing of a regional control room is very disturbing. John Prescott has pressed headlong to get regional control rooms.

“They are not something we agree with. We are fundamentally opposed to them as they take away staff accountability and the staff at the moment know the place.”

Peter Monk, county councillor with portfolio for public protection, said the report was now a public document but he would ensure Mr Brinkley receives a copy.

He added: “We would like to know the specifics of how it could be a risk to life and we would welcome them, and individuals, to put forward their views in the consultation period.

“One thing has been proved in this. In actual fact there is a pretty general agreement that we are doing this for the benefit of the public and there are very few areas of disagreement.”

The executive committee at Suffolk County Council will discuss the draft report next Tuesday. If it is approved, there will be a 12-week consultation period.

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