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Firefighters are taking longer to respond to emergency calls in Suffolk, report warns

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 February 2016 | UPDATED: 09:45 01 February 2016

Firefighters tackle a blaze at a farm near Framlingham last month.

Firefighters tackle a blaze at a farm near Framlingham last month.

Archant

Health and safety rules and increased traffic volumes are playing a part, Suffolk’s chief fire officer said.

New figures from the Suffolk and Fire Rescue Service’s (SFRS) show the number of property fires attended within 11 minutes fell from 77.5% in 2013/14 to 64.8% in 2014/15, against a target of 80%. It means that only 418 out of 645 property fires were tackled within the target time last year. Response times for house fires rose from 9.7 minutes to 11.1 minutes.

The length of time it takes crews to reach house fires has also increased by more than a minute on average in the last year,

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer, said: “About ten years ago in the fire service, there was a change of approach whereby firefighters no longer get on a fire engine and, as they are driving to an incident, put on their fire gear – boots, helmet and other equipment – while stood up in the back as the fire engine weaves through traffic.

“The approach now is that when we get a 999 call, the firefighters dress quickly by the side of the appliance and then get on the fire engine, put on their seat belts and then respond to the incident.

“When you driving on blue lights, weaving left and right through traffic, and you have got four or five firefighters potentially stood up in the back with no seat belts and trying to put on their gear, that is an accident waiting to happen.

“Increased traffic volumes are also certainly having an impact on response times and I think that is reflected nationally. It is the case in all towns. Wherever there are larger towns, we tend to see increased volumes of traffic and that affects response times.

“The availability of on-call firefighters is another reason to an extent, particularly Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm when we are doing some work to improve availability.

“Little things like these all add up, but we always want to respond to incidents as fast as we possibly can and the fact that performances have reduced slightly is something we are working to improve.”

The report added that a recent adoption of other safer driving techniques, named ‘drive to arrive’, has also contributed to increased 999 response times.

The increase comes despite the number of “primary” fires falling from 808 to 785 last year, a report to the county council showed. Fires at business premises also dropped from 156 to 136.

The news also comes amid a public consultation, which ends three weeks today, over the future of Suffolk’s fire service, which is expected to make savings of £1.34m from its £22m budget by April 2018.

Currently, 29 out of the county’s 35 fire stations are crewed solely by on call staff.

Mr Hardingham added: “If you accept that a full-time fire station costs on average about 10 times more to run than an on-call fire station, and a number of our 29 on-call fire stations get less than one call a week, the idea of putting a full-time fire engine at our on-call fire stations and increasing our costs 10-fold in those areas in my perspective would not be a good use of public money, when I think rural areas do get a good level of service from on-call firefighters in their community.”

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