Anger builds to support fire campaign
NO, NO, NO.That was the response today as anger built up towards local and national and local politicians as Suffolk's marine firefighting unit entered the last 10 days of its existence.
By Paul Geater
NO, NO, NO.
That was the response today as anger built up towards local and national and local politicians as Suffolk's marine firefighting unit entered the last 10 days of its existence.
The unit is due to be disbanded on Thursday week – leaving Kent and Lincolnshire as the only fire services on the east coast with a marine unit.
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Since we launched our call for the service to be saved on Saturday, there has been disbelief that such a vital safety net should be threatened for the sake of a few pounds.
And today it emerged that the extra training that members of the marine unit need is specialist flight training undergone by anyone who flies by helicopter over the North Sea.
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Firefighters will continue to be fully trained to fight fires on board ships because they could still be called to blazes on vessels in harbours or estuaries.
"Anyone who flies in a helicopter over the North Sea has to have been trained in survival techniquest if they have to ditch in the sea," said assistant chief fire officer Chris Turnock.
"It is this specialist training that they need to have completed – if we tackle a blaze on a vessels in estuaries or in a dock we can reach them by boat or from the quayside," he added.
Pressure was coming today for the Department of Transport to help fund fire service marine units.
Fire authorities have no duty to provide marine units – they are an optional extra, and one which Suffolk feels it can no longer afford.
The cost of the extra training has not been revealed – figures ranging from £9,000 to £250,000 have been suggested. But even the higher figure is a pinprick for the county council with a budget of about half a billion pounds a year.
Transport secretary Alastair Darling is coming under pressure to provide funding for the vital service – although Suffolk County Council has still to contact him.
It makes sense for a marine unit to be based in Suffolk because it would rely on helicopters from Wattisham to fly them to the emergency.
But the firefighters could be flown anywhere from the Wash to the Thames estuary – last week's drama took place eight miles north east of Great Yarmouth.
Suffolk County Council's Peter Monk admitted his authority had considered asking for government help – but has not made any formal representations yet.
"With the changes in government departments recently we have to ensure we go to the right department. It is something we are minded to do," he said.
But in the meantime the disbanding of the unit is set to go ahead.
"We talked about this earlier this year and now the decision is being implemented," he insisted today.