Busiest fire station in Suffolk could see its cover slashed as part of countywide review

PUBLISHED: 07:06 19 November 2015

Fire station in Princes Street, lpswich

Fire station in Princes Street, lpswich

The busiest fire station in Suffolk handles more than twice as many calls as anywhere else in the county – but is threatened with losing two of its three appliances.

Fire Chief’s response

Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham said the authority was looking at different ways of increasing cover for rural areas without having to commit appliances normally based in one of the large towns.

He said that 75% of fire calls in Ipswich only needed one appliance and in only 2% of incidents are more than three appliances needed.

There had been occasions when one of the full-time appliances from Princes Street was sent to a rural station to offer cover, but he was looking at other ways of solving that problem.

“There have been occasions where if I sent one firefighter to a rural station it would effectively put that back on call with the stand-by crew in the area.

“That is much more efficient than sending out a full fire appliance from Ipswich. If the changes happen the fire appliances would stay in the Ipswich area providing cover for the town,” he said.

Princes Street fire station in Ipswich handled nearly 1,500 emergency calls in 2014/15. It is currently staffed by two full-time crews and one on-call crew. The proposals in the review of the fire service published earlier this month suggest that it should be reduced to a single full-time fire appliance.

The second busiest fire station, according to figures from the county council, was Lowestoft South which was called to just over 700 incidents. Bury St Edmunds was called to 634 incidents.

The county town’s other fire station – Ipswich East – was called to just over 500 incidents.

Meanwhile Nayland fire station, which has a single on-call appliance, answered just 16 calls last year. It would be retained under the proposals. Aldeburgh fire station answered 43 calls – although just 24 of them were in its own area and 11 of those were false alarms.

The figures have angered opponents of the cutbacks who pointed out that the Ipswich fire appliances are often sent out to back up rural crews as well as handling a significant number of calls in the town itself.

Andy Vingoe, chair of the Fire Brigades Union in Suffolk said: “We have said it is ludicrous to cut back the full-time crew at Princes Street in Ipswich because it is often used to cover for the non-availability of the rural stations when they are unable to muster a crew.”

The second machine at Princes Street was called out 323 times last year and the third, staffed by on-call firefighters, 189 times.

Mr Vingoe said: “On several occasions it was sent to Debenham fire station to cover that part of Suffolk because Debenham, Eye, Framlingham and Stradbroke were all off-line simultaneously because they could not muster enough on-call firefighters to make up a crew.

“It makes no sense to say rural fire appliances can come into Ipswich to help when they are not able to cover their own areas.”

Mr Vingoe said some fire stations that might appear to be at risk were effectively immune from closure because they had been built – or rebuilt – with Private Finance Initiative funding. That was what was preventing Nayland from coming under the threat of closure.

Opposition leader Sandy Martin said the fact that the large town’s full time firefighters were often needed to support on call crews in rural areas seemed to have been totally ignored in the review proposals.

He said: “It (reducing Princes Street appliances) doesn’t make any sense at all. When you look at the number of times the second and third appliances are called out and at the geography of the area, it is totally unacceptable.”

Mr Martin did not feel any stations should be cut – but he said it often took longer for appliances to get from one of the Ipswich stations to an address in the town than it would for an appliance to travel the eight miles from Hadleigh to Nayland.

The review is proposing taking away two fire appliances from Ipswich Princes Street and one each from Ipswich East, Lowestoft South and Bury St Edmunds fire stations. Wrentham fire station, between Lowestoft and Southwold, would close altogether.

The review was launched after the number of emergency calls to the fire and rescue service fell by about 40% over the last 10 years – and is looking at reducing the fire service’s budget by £1.3m a year by 2018. A total of 20 full-time positions are at risk at Princes Street but officials are confident the staff reduction will be achieved with no redundancies.

It is open for public consultation until February – and a final decision on the future of the county’s fire stations is due to be taken in May or June next year.

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