Fire team coming back

SUFFOLK is to get its marine firefighting team back in operation before Christmas, the Evening Star can reveal today.More than two years after the controversial decision to scrap the team, a new marine firefighting team is to be formed in the county.

SUFFOLK is to get its marine firefighting team back in operation before Christmas, the Evening Star can reveal today.

More than two years after the controversial decision to scrap the team, a new marine firefighting team is to be formed in the county.

And today Suffolk's fire spokesman said it was thanks to pressure from the public - such as the campaign spearheaded by the Star - that forced the government into funding the service.

The new team will have the costs of its training and equipment paid for by the government through the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

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And it should be ready to go into action if needed within a month.

Suffolk County Council's public protection spokesman Peter Monk was delighted the team was being reformed, this time with government support.

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"This is the outcome we wanted all along - until now providing teams for firefighting at sea has not been a statutory duty for fire services, even in areas like Suffolk where we have a long coastline.

"Essex and Norfolk haven't had teams to fight fires at sea for many years, so in effect the council taxpayers of Suffolk and Lincolnshire were providing cover for the whole area of the North Sea from the Thames to the Scottish border."

Mr Monk said it was right that the funding of the team - which was estimated to cost only about £9,000 a year - should be met by the national government and the MCA.

"My concern about this is that the government will look at the map and see teams in Suffolk and Lincolnshire and not chase up other counties quite so hard," he said.

He was disappointed it had taken two years for the government to come up with a funding formula, but felt Suffolk's action of two years ago had spurred it into action.

"I think that through our withdrawal and the campaign that surrounded the decision, it forced the government into taking what is a sensible decision," he said.

It should not take long to offer the full service because Suffolk still had the nucleus of the previous team in place.

"We are very fortunate that we already have most of the equipment and expertise we need from when the team was disbanded two years ago," said Mr Monk.

"Although there has been no requirement to have a team to fight fires at sea, we have still had to be prepared to fight fires on vessels in dock or above the low water mark.

"Therefore firefighters have continued training for that eventuality, the only thing we have not trained for over the last two years was being taken on to ships in the open sea," he added.

Suffolk County Council's executive committee is expected to give the go-ahead for the team to be re-formed at its meeting on November 16, and it is expected to be fully ready for operation within a month.

SUFFOLK'S firefighting at sea team was disbanded on September 19, 2002 - less than three weeks after it was called out to put out a fire on a passenger ferry off Great Yarmouth.

The disbandment of the team caused widespread fury and great concern among marine safety experts.

The Evening Star led the campaign to retain it - and even took our call to senior figures in the government.

At the time the county council said it was wrong for the government to expect council tax payers in some coastal counties to pay for the service while other counties did not offer it.

With neither Essex nor Norfolk having a firefighting at sea team, Suffolk was effectively responsible for covering the North Sea from the Thames to the Wash - Suffolk firefighters went to the Norsea off Great Yarmouth because there was no firefighting at sea team in Norfolk.

At that time the county insisted it did want to provide the service, but wanted government help to do so.

A government inquiry into firefighting at sea was set up at the end of 2002, and last year came up with recommendations that fire authorities with coastlines should provide the service.

However the cost of training and specialist equipment should come from the MCA, and not fall on the shoulders of council tax payers.

This recommendation was implemented earlier this year - and that is what has prompted the county council to act now to reinstate the firefighting at sea team.

What do you think about the firefighting at sea team making a comeback? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

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