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Shortage of crews at Suffolk fire station

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 August 2009 | UPDATED: 10:08 15 March 2010

COMMUNITY leaders have reacted with horror after it emerged a Suffolk fire station had been unable to respond to emergencies due to a lack of retained firefighters to man its appliances.

COMMUNITY leaders have reacted with horror after it emerged a Suffolk fire station had been unable to respond to emergencies due to a lack of retained firefighters to man its appliances.

Sudbury Fire Station, which is manned by retained crews, has been closed for five days this month due to severe staff shortages.

On days when there are not enough firefighters available, crews have to be called in from elsewhere in the event of an emergency in the town.

Staffing problems have meant the town's 21-strong retained unit in Gregory Street has been unavailable to respond to daytime call-outs and forced to rely on cover from elsewhere.

Yesterday, there was nobody was available to crew one of its three vehicles again.

Sue Brotherwood, the clerk at Sudbury Town Council, said: “I am absolutely horrified to hear this.

“Obviously it will need to be looked into thoroughly to see what on earth is going on.”

John Bromley, the watch manager at Sudbury Fire Station, has asked for more staff but to no avail.

“In my 26 years here I have never seen it so bad that all staff are unavailable to man the appliances.”

And it would appear that it is not only Sudbury which is facing a crisis as other stations across Suffolk are also unable to operate due to shortages of cover.

Steve Collins, Suffolk secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “We are massively concerned, not just about Sudbury being off the run but several stations around Suffolk that are unable to operate due to shortages of cover.

“Over the past few weeks it has been a case of pure luck in Sudbury that they have got away with it and that is not how it should be run.

“As far as a fire risk is concerned Sudbury is a growing town that is a risk as its industry is getting bigger.”

The station was downgraded 10 years ago from four full-time firefighters to a purely retained crew and with work commitments taking priority in the recession Mr Collins said the decision looks to have been the wrong one.

A spokesman for the fire and rescue service, run by Suffolk County Council, said: “Suffolk is a largely rural county and we are dependent on the commitment, professionalism and dedication of our retained firefighters who work alongside our full time fire-fighters.

“We work hard to ensure the 21 firefighters based at Sudbury can provide cover 24 hours seven days per week. However, there are a few occasions when, due to sickness or where our firefighters cannot be released from their primary employment that we need to call in other crews to cover Sudbury or transfer additional staff to the station.”

He added: “In 2008 Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service carried out a review of its retained duty system arrangements and 27 recommendations were produced. Some recommendations have already been implemented and work is now in progress on the remaining recommendations. This project will help us to continue to develop and improve our arrangements in Suffolk.”

It is hoped a new monitoring system of availability of crews and two new positions; a retained liaison officer and a project officer to implement the changes will be enough to sort the problems.

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