FBU want more men for sea fire duty

EXTRA manpower must be available and land-based fire cover must not be affected if Suffolk's firefighters are to resume tackling blazes at sea.That's the view of the firefighters' union, which has welcomed the government's move to restore the county's sea team by next year but says it cannot be on the same basis as it was before it was axed.

By Richard Cornwell

EXTRA manpower must be available and land-based fire cover must not be affected if Suffolk's firefighters are to resume tackling blazes at sea.

That's the view of the firefighters' union, which has welcomed the government's move to restore the county's sea team by next year but says it cannot be on the same basis as it was before it was axed.

Paul Woolstenholmes, secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigades' Union, said: "From the union's point of view, we are starting from scratch again.

"We want to ensure that we don't have the situation we had before where existing provision was used to provide extra cover.

"We need extra resources and nothing will go ahead unless we are convinced that extra resources are being provided. It's not a foregone conclusion."

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The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has announced that it wants to have full firefighting at sea cover around the entire UK coast by spring 2004.

The aim is to have 12 to 15 maritime fire squads or units around the coast, with counties joining together to cover areas of coastline.

Each unit would be made up of 50 firefighters, which would ensure six to eight were available at all times to attend an emergency.

At the present time – as highlighted by an Evening Star campaign – if there is an incident on board a ship off Suffolk, firefighters from Lincolnshire would be airlifted to the vessel in trouble.

Mr Woolstenholmes said the joining together of counties to spread the manpower needed could be a suitable solution.

"Covering fires which happen on land while some officers are out at sea tackling a fire has always been one of our main concerns – and we need to ensure the land-based manpower is not reduced when it might be needed," he said.

"The taxpayers of Suffolk pay for the service on land and that is what is most important."

Officers from Felixstowe would be looking at the details of the MCA plans when more information was known.

Neither Norfolk or Essex has sea firefighting squads but could be asked to join Suffolk to cover the shipping lanes on the North Sea off East Anglia.

The MCA says the UK has a woeful inadequacy to deal with a major ship fire with only ten out of more than 40 coastal brigades still fighting fires at sea, while shipping lanes get busier each year, with bigger vessels carrying a variety of dangerous cargo and passengers ferries growing in size.

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