Fire crews 'critical shortage'

FIRE services across Suffolk are critically short of essential personnel, a leading union figure warned today.Vincent Jell, chairman of the Suffolk Fire Brigades' Union, has called for more retained firemen and women in the county because rural areas rely "whole-heartedly" upon them.

FIRE services across Suffolk are critically short of essential personnel, a leading union figure warned today.

Vincent Jell, chairman of the Suffolk Fire Brigades' Union, has called for more retained firemen and women in the county because rural areas rely "whole-heartedly" upon them.

His comments come a day after the Fire Brigades' Union announced that its 14,000 members who worked as retained firefighters were seriously overstretched at a time when 999 calls had hit record levels.

A substantial proportion of Suffolk is dependant on these retained personnel - people who hold a permanent job outside the service but have been trained to respond to fires on a part-time basis.

Mr Jell said: "We can't get exact figures, but we know there are some quite crucial shortages in rural areas in Suffolk."

The problem occurs when some fire engines do not have enough retained members on them. Health and Safety regulations state there should be at least four firefighters to every appliance.

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When this cannot happen, another fire engine is called from the nearest available station. This could drain vital resources from other areas.

In Suffolk, there are only six full-time stations – Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe and Newmarket.

Mr Jell said: "When you get into the rural areas it relies whole-heartedly on retained members. It is not effective to pay five full-time firefighters to respond to perhaps one call every three days, so they have part-time people who carry a bleeper. But the shortages are getting that large that is has to be tackled on a national level."

Mr Jell has called on the government to give more incentives to employers to release workers who are retained firefighters.

He said: "We are looking for a national campaign to promote recruitment for retained personnel. The work-life balance has changed nowadays and employers are very loathe to release their personnel.

"There needs to be more incentives for employers, perhaps a reduction in their council tax or business rates."

The union has already won a hourly pay increase for retained personnel on par with full-time members, but they also want them to receive the same pension benefits in a further to bid increase numbers.

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