Hoaxers keep Goddesses busy

FOR the first time in 25 years, our safety in the event of fire was left in the hands of ancient vehicles and military staff as the fire fighters strike began.

FOR the first time in 25 years, our safety in the event of fire was left in the hands of ancient vehicles and military staff as the fire fighters strike began.

The Evening Star spent the night shadowing the Green Goddess crews at the TA Centre in Yarmouth Road, Ipswich. GEORGINA WROE reports.

HOAXERS put Suffolk lives at risk overnight, straining rookie Goddess crews standing in for striking fire fighters.

But the Goddess teams, accused of lacking expertise and up to date equipment, were heartened by cheers of support from Ipswich fire fighters as they sped past the Princes Street picket line.

Flight Lieutenant Owen Crossby (corr), 27, said: "We have a job to do and we are just getting on with it. There is no bad feeling on either side."

But his squadron's task was made more difficult by time-wasting hoaxers who tested their nerves and put lives in danger.

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Of six call-outs in the first 12 hours of the strike, only one turned out to be a fire.

According to the MoD centre in Cambridge, more hoax calls were made in Suffolk than any of the region's other six counties.

In one incident police officers, who accompanied the Goddesses on call outs, entered a flat on the Chantry Estate, Ipswich, after a report at 10.32pm that a chip pan blaze was threatening nearby homes.

But minutes after the Green Goddess arrived in driving rain, horrified neighbours watched officers retreat from the Peterhouse Close home reporting the call had been malicious and there was no fire.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: "I have no idea why anyone would do something like that, especially at this time. It's just wasting people's time."

As well as a Green Goddess from Ipswich's temporary base, a specialist three-man rescue team from Bury St Edmunds sped to attend the reported blaze.

The hoaxers tested the nerves and patience of the armed forces teams based in Ipswich, Sudbury, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

Teams from 37th Squadron based at RAF Wittering manned three Green Goddesses at the Territorial Army HQ on Yarmouth Road, along with the RAF's own specialist breathing apparatus and rescue teams.

With half the squadron on detachment in the Falklands, the others waited in a makeshift Ipswich mess room for the call to action closer to home.

Trying to stay calm, some watched videos, while others played computer games all nervously waiting to put four months training into action.

Senior Air Craftsman Phil Hockey, 22, said: "It's the waiting that's the worst thing. Once you get the call that's when your training comes into effect. But then you never really know what's going to be at the other end."

Suffolk's first hoax call came in Lowestoft just five minutes into the strike. One Green Goddess was called to a pile of rubbish said to be alight in Churchill Road, Great Yarmouth.

When a crew arrived there was no fire.

At 7.17pm the calm of the mess room was again shattered by the flight commander's call to stand to.

Goddess crews, as well as breathing apparatus and rescue teams, hastily dressed into full uniform as reports came in of a shed fire in Walton, near Felixstowe. But their 12-mile journal was in vain.

Less than an hour later a call went to Martlesham HQ that a bonfire was out of control in Congreve Road, Ipswich. Again three six-man teams scrambled into waiting Green Goddesses, only to find no fire at the other end.

By 10.30pm there had been only one serious call in Suffolk to rubbish burning outside a doctor's surgery in Crest View Road, Lowestoft. Crews soon on the scene took less than half an hour to put out the blaze.

The Yarmouth Road TA HQ is currently manned by two 12-hour shifts from 7.30am to 7.30pm.

But according to Flight Commander Bob Neal despite the training nothing can really prepare you for the real thing. He said: "The training is relatively straight forward, like any job the difficulties really come with the unexpected, the things you can't plan for. You might know all the drills but nothing can prepare you for the real thing when don't really know what's going to be at the other end."

n Fire hoaxer jailed, see page 11.

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