Union slams new plans for fire service

A UNION has hit back at plans for a major shake-up of Suffolk Fire Service – which includes likely cuts in specialist jobs – saying it will put the public and firefighters at risk.

By Danielle Nuttall

A UNION has hit back at plans for a major shake-up of Suffolk Fire Service – which includes likely cuts in specialist jobs – saying it will put the public and firefighters at risk.

The service's long awaited Integrated Risk Management Plan for 2005 was made public for the first time on Saturday and contains far-reaching changes to the way fire cover is provided.

Among the controversial proposals are plans to halve the number of firefighters dedicated to operating the turntable ladder by 12, which is expected to affect staff in Bury St Edmunds.

It also includes a review of the number of fire engines at retained stations with more than one appliance, and new ways of tackling a worsening shortage of available retained firefighters.

Reacting to the draft report last night, Graham Noakes, regional secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: "What they are doing is using the integrated plans as a way of reducing fire cover that will put the public at risk and firefighters at risk.

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"It's nothing other than that. They disguise it up in a million different ways. What they are doing is dangerous to the public and firefighters.

"We were promised that each fire authority would do a thorough integrated risk management plan and relocate resources but we are starting to see that the plans are just coming up with excuses to make cuts."

The plan contains a proposal for a central team of retained firefighters who will be able to undertake fire prevention work with vulnerable communities, as well as be on call if a fire starts in an area where the local part-time firefighters are not available.

Where daytime retained fire stations have more than one fire engine, the extra appliances will be under review.

This will only affect the second or third appliance, not the stations, with the fire service using a special Government system to assess the risk.

The stations that could be looked at in the review are Sudbury, where there are two engines, Colchester Road, in Ipswich, where there are three, Bury St Edmunds, where there are three, and Normanhurst in Lowestoft, where there are also three.

But Peter Monk, county councillor and portfolio holder for public protection, reassured the public last night that nothing was set in cement and said the service was wanting feedback during public consultation.

"To make a statement it may lead to loss of life, we obviously take that seriously when we look into this," he said. "We mustn't be emotive over this. We have to sit back and be very, very objective.

"We have looked at the figures for usage of the turntable ladder. We have to look at the overall big picture.

It's very, very unfortunate there have been that number of large fires in Bury in a short space of time but we have dealt with them very, very successfully.

"I am worried that we provide the best service for the people of Suffolk. I want people to respond to this. They will be listened to.

"We are aimed at improving the service to the public and not diluting it. We have to be realistic."

The draft plan was announced the same day as Suffolk Fire Service revealed plans to re-establish a firefighting at sea team working alongside the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

In August 2002, a decision was made to disband the firefighting at sea team.

But a report to be discussed by Suffolk County Council's executive committee on November 16 recommends it is re-established.

The new team will not cost Suffolk as the training and equipment will be funded through MCA, which will also pay the costs of incidents by approaching the shipping company.

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