Marine fire fighters are back

MORE than three years after Suffolk's firefighting at sea team was formally scrapped, the county is once again in the front line of the battle to keep shipping lanes safe.

MORE than three years after Suffolk's firefighting at sea team was formally scrapped, the county is once again in the front line of the battle to keep shipping lanes safe.

A total of 50 firefighters from across the county have been trained to deal with fires on board vessels at sea and are today joining colleagues from services around the coast of Britain to form a national squad.

The new service is nationally-funded with equipment and training paid for by the Department of Transport - although the firefighters themselves remain part of their county service.

Today the new service was being launched by Transport Secretary Alastair Darling at a special ceremony at Dover.

The Marine Incident Response Group (MIRG) comprises 15 teams strategically located in fire and rescue services around the country.

Suffolk fire chief Lee Howell said. "I am extremely proud that Suffolk has been selected to be involved in this unique service.

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“Suffolk has over 80 kilometres of coastline and a strong history of fire fighting at sea. This is a great honour for the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service and a tremendous opportunity for us to work with other services from all over the United Kingdom."

Firefighters Chris Randall (Lowestoft), Kev Canham (Ipswich) and Emma Wells (Felixstowe) were taking part in today's exercise. They were joined by Divisional Officer Phil Embury, who co-ordinates the Suffolk team.

Mr Embury said: “We will be co-ordinating with other services around the coast to help ensure the safety of ships at sea.

“The firefighters from Suffolk have been given survival training for flying in helicopters - and also specialist training for fighting fires on board vessels.

“About half were members of the former Suffolk team and the other 25 have been newly trained. Most are from fire stations near the coast, but they are scattered throughout the county,” he said.

Not every fire service on the coast has a marine team - Norfolk and Essex do not have such a team - and the Suffolk team will work with colleagues from Kent and Lincolnshire to keep the southern North Sea safe.

SUFFOLK'S former firefighting at sea team was disbanded in September 2002 because of problems over funding and insurance.

At the time there was no requirement for coastal fire services to provide cover for incidents at sea - and the government gave no financial help towards the service.

During 2002 Suffolk firefighters were called out to two major incidents, although they were not off the county's own coast - they were off Norfolk and Essex, neither of which county had a maritime team.

The former Suffolk team was disbanded in September 2002 - despite a campaign spearheaded by The Evening Star.

But almost immediately the government started drawing up proposals for a nationally-funded service which ultimately led to today's launch.

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