No firefighting at sea will save money

FIREFIGHTING at sea off the East Anglian coast is set to be scrapped, saving the brigade more than £9,000 a year.Members of Suffolk County Council's caring and protecting theme panel meet next Thursday to consider proposals to axe the facility, which means the service is able to assist vessels on fire out at sea.

FIREFIGHTING at sea off the East Anglian coast is set to be scrapped, saving the brigade more than £9,000 a year.

Members of Suffolk County Council's caring and protecting theme panel meet next Thursday to consider proposals to axe the facility, which means the service is able to assist vessels on fire out at sea.

The council's policy development panel noted the service, which brigades are not obliged to provide, cost about £9,380 a year in equipment and training. Fire authorities at present also cannot recover the costs of operations.

Currently, volunteers at the brigade's coastal stations receive additional training for firefighting at sea operations and carry alerters specifically for that purpose.

The operations are not supposed to affect normal cover at fire stations but the most recent experience – when officers assisted a stricken vessel off the Norfolk coast in March, 2000 – saw three firefighters joining the team who were on duty watches.

The Suffolk branch of Fire Brigades' Union (FBU), has always been opposed to firefighting at sea.

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Suffolk FBU Secretary, Paul Woolstenholmes, said the proposal to scrap the service was a sensible decision: "Considering the restrictions we are under with budgets, this is a sensible approach to saving money and we are pleased the proposals have been made," he said.

"There is only a limited amount we can do to deal with fires at sea and other counties do not have this facility. If there was a fire on a vessel without the facility, it would mean air sea rescue getting people to safety as quickly as possible," he added.

The panel debating the service's future included five county councillors, the assistant chief fire officer, Graham Smith, one officer team member, the brigade's training officer, three firefighters and two FBU representatives.

They heard the cost of equipment provision totalled £3,480, training costs estimated at £2,560 and the cost of utilising staff reached £5,900 a year.

The FBU believed the level of cover in insurance should be £1m for the operations, above the amount management thought appropriate.

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