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Major blow for firefighting at sea

PUBLISHED: 18:58 19 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:40 03 March 2010

ON the day that Suffolk fire service disbands its firefighting at sea team, seafarers off the East Anglian coast received another major blow.

Kent fire service has decided that its marine unit would in future only deal with fires off the county's own coastline.

ON the day that Suffolk fire service disbands its firefighting at sea team, seafarers off the East Anglian coast received another major blow.

Kent fire service has decided that its marine unit would in future only deal with fires off the county's own coastline.

That means that the only county with a marine firefighting unit able to deal with incidents in the North Sea is Lincolnshire – the unit is based at Boston.

That's just about the worst place possible for helicopters to fly the crew out to stricken vessels in the North Sea.

The team has to rely on Search and Rescue Helicopters from Wattisham – 70 miles from Boston – or Leconfield north of Hull which is about 60 miles from Boston.

But today Lincolnshire's chief fire officer, Alan Riddet, gave an assurance that his service would continue to operate its firefighting at sea unit.

In Kent, however, the news was bleaker.

The Kent and Medway Fire Authority decided yesterday that in future its firefighting at sea team would only operate off the county's own coast.

"This is a very busy area for shipping, and we are unable to respond to all the calls in the southern North Sea," said a spokesman for the Kent fire service.

He said senior officers from the county were taking part in the Department for Transport's marine safety review which could introduce national funding for firefighting at sea teams.

"It is looking at national funding for firefighting at sea. Certainly Kent fire service is deeply involved in the review – we can't speak about the response of other fire services," said the spokesman.

Suffolk fire service is not involved in the review – and was not aware of its existence until told about it by The Evening Star.

The disbanding of the Suffolk team coupled with Kent's decision means that in the event of a major fire on a vessel off our coast, a search and rescue helicopter would have to make a round trip of 150 miles just to land a team on board the vessel.

Emergencies off the Suffolk coast might have to be answered by Belgian rescue teams based at Koksijde, just south of Zeebrugge.

Seafarers believe that if a major fire broke out on a passenger vessel off the Essex or Suffolk coast, firefighters from Kent would turn out.

"There is a strong sense of duty and we know they wouldn't put lives in danger – but it does show how the coastline here is now left unprotected," one fire professional said.

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