Firefighters back at sea

SUFFOLK'S maritime firefighters were today hailed as heroes after the first incident after their team was re-established.The county's firefighting at sea team was re-established earlier this year, more than four years after the original team was disbanded in 2002 despite a tough campaign spearheaded by The Evening Star.

SUFFOLK'S maritime firefighters were today hailed as heroes after being called into action for the first time after their team was re-established.

The county's firefighting at sea team was re-grouped earlier this year, more than four years after the original team was disbanded in 2002 despite a tough Evening Star campaign to keep it running.

Now, the re-established team has spent hours fighting a blaze on a tug off the East Anglian coast before accompanying the stricken vessel as it was towed into Lowestoft.

Six firefighters from Ipswich joined colleagues from Lowestoft to be airlifted on to the powerful tug HT Blade which was crippled by an engine room fire off Cromer early yesterday.

They were flown to the vessel by a rescue helicopter from Wattisham airfield.

There were three crew members on board the boat but all were rescued and no one was hurt in the drama.

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Suffolk's assistant chief fire officer Gary Phillips said the operation had gone smoothly, even though it was the first time the team had been called out since it was re-established at the beginning of the year.

He said: “We have done a great deal of training, and many team members had been in the previous team before it was disbanded.

“But this was the first emergency and they did a very professional and successful job.

“It was certainly quite hazardous - it is dangerous being airlifted to a vessel at sea in any event and when they got to the vessel there were real problems facing them.

“It might sound odd when you are surrounded by the sea, but getting the right kind of water to tackle a fire like this is problematic.

“It is especially good news that no one was hurt in the incident and everyone involved in the incident should be congratulated.”

Mr Phillips said the cost of the team was now borne by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) which was now responsible for establishing groups of firefighters around the coast.

Norfolk and Essex do not have their own teams, so Suffolk firefighters are on call for emergencies anywhere from the Thames estuary to the Wash.

Mr Phillips said: “We will get money from the MCA to cover this incident - it is the first time the new system has been tested.”

Suffolk County councillor Joanna Spicer, responsible for public protection, paid tribute to the team. She said: “They are very highly-skilled and did a very good job even though it was their first live incident.

“They can all be proud of their work and I am proud Suffolk is able to provide this kind of valuable service.”

N See opinion page four

N Pay your tribute to the fire heroes. Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Early 2002: Suffolk County Council asks for government help to finance its firefighting at sea team, which covers an area from the Wash to the Thames estuary.

Mid 2002: No response to request. Council warns the team will be disbanded from September.

August 2002: Team called to fight fire on ferry heading for Hull.

September 2002: Team disbanded, leaving no maritime cover between Kent and Lincolnshire - despite a major campaign by The Evening Star.

2006: Government announces Maritime and Coastguard Agency will fund firefighting at sea teams around the coast.

January 2007: Suffolk's firefighting at sea team re-established.

June 2007: 12 Suffolk firefighters tackle blaze in tug off Cromer.

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