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Fire campaign to be fought with anger

PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:36 03 March 2010

TODAY your Evening Star launches a major campaign aimed at preserving the county of Suffolk's ability to fight fires on vessels at sea.

This week volunteer Suffolk firefighters were flown to the aid of a fire-stricken ferry, in need of major assistance, just off the East Anglian coast.

TODAY your Evening Star launches a major campaign aimed at preserving the county of Suffolk's ability to fight fires on vessels at sea.

This week volunteer Suffolk firefighters were flown to the aid of a fire-stricken ferry, pictured, in need of major

assistance just off the East Anglian coast.

They helped save the ferry, cloaked in choking smoke from an engine room fire. Their arrival calmed 600 terrified

passengers, who were preparing to take to the lifeboats.

Yet in less than two weeks, the Suffolk "firefighting at sea" service will be axed for good.

Today, this newspaper reveals that the primary justification for the move – from Suffolk's Public Protection Committee boss – is that training savings will be made.

These savings are a miniscule £9,000 a year for training – defeating that argument in its tracks.

This weekend, as your Star gears up for an uncompromising fight to save this invaluable service, we can reveal that a growing tide of anger is welling up against the move.

Furious politicians are joining our crusade, seamen's leaders are demanding answers from government. And the local politicians who have joined with Suffolk fire service chiefs to agree the move, are on the backfoot.

n To the public of Suffolk we say: help us stop this nonsense move in its tracks – and sign our petition on this page of tonight's newspaper.

n To the politicians we say: put a halt on your ill-thought-out move while other options are considered, after all, money saving is not the issue.

n To Suffolk Fire Service chiefs we say: shame on you for not fighting harder to save this service for our county and our region. Now is the time to stand up and be counted and not to meekly follow the county line.

To the government we say: call in this blunderous move before it is too late – transport secretary, Alastair Darling, the county of Suffolk is watching you. We know you have met with NUMAST regarding the decision on our county.

When newspapers uncover the howlers perpetrated by some politicians, often we become the targets for their ire. We expect brickbats in this case – but we will not be silenced. And we'll continue to place the evidence before the people of Suffolk.

Our evidence includes:

n There have been three major blazes on ferries in the North Sea this year alone, two on the ferry which was crippled this week.

n There have been 340 fires on ships in UK waters (ie within 12 miles from the mainland) in the past 10 years – 71 of them on board passenger ferries, 27 on oil tankers, some of which do travel the Suffolk coast.

n Tens of thousands of vessels, including passenger liners with hundreds of people on board, use the waters off Suffolk's coastline every year.

n Felixstowe is Britain's busiest container port. Handling difficult and sometimes dangerous cargo, through a narrow and ever-busier channel.

nHarwich freight and passenger business is growing rapidly.

n More and more vessels are coming into the Port of Ipswich.

n The major air sea rescue base for the south east is RAF Wattisham – perfectly placed in the heart of Suffolk to pick up local firefighting volunteers and drop them on to burning vessels.

n While modern ships have excellent fire-fighting capability (on-board systems to detect and put out fires within minutes, full trained firefighting staff etc), many ships visiting UK ports don't meet such high standards at all and would desperately need Suffolk's firefighters if there was an incident.

One of our major concerns – backed by Suffolk Coastal MP, John Gummer, is that Suffolk's 100-mile or so coastline and the waters beyond would not be protected from locally-provided firefighters. The vague plan is to fly in firefighters from Kent or Lincolnshire.

When lost minutes can cost lives, the folly of RAF Wattisham crews racing across the Thames estuary to pick up Kent firefighters, or up to Lincolnshire, cannot be underestimated.

And what if winter snowstorms in Kent stopped a pick up?

County committee boss, Peter Monk, puts up a smokescreen when he says that Suffolk lives on the land must come first when it comes to fires. That misses the point by a wide country mile – hundreds of lives may be at risk on passenger ferries just off our coast.

The point is one of resource. Innovative thinking – sadly lacking so far – should be used to come up with a solution which preserves our county's ability to help those in peril on the sea.

Suffolk should spearhead powerful new meetings with neighbouring counties to come up with the funding needed. The service – potentially backed and partly funded by both the Government and shipping industry – should be available for all of East Anglia. Using Suffolk skills, ones which were so needed on Monday of this week.

And what of a one pence a container fee/one pound a ship fee for all the boats using Felixstowe. That would bring in much more money than is needed every year.

It seems to us that this issue needs discussing at length and in detail - and without the pressure of an axe hanging over this service.

Wave of Anger, yes - but you ain't seen nothing yet.

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