Recruit the crews before cuts made

ON-CALL firefighters do a fantastic job – highly trained, totally professional, dropping everything to turn out within minutes whenever there is an emergency in our communities.

Suffolk’s problem is we just haven’t got enough of them. In these cost-cutting times that could lead to disaster.

Fire chief Andy Fry, his deputy Mark Hardingham and assistant Phil Embury, tried to justify axing Felixstowe’s full-time day-time firefighters but they were not very reassuring and many of us left with doubts.

They tried to tell us that before the budget battles, the cuts were set to be much worse for our fire and rescue service, which got off lightly compared with other front-line services.

Even so, tough and controversial changes still had to be made to save money, and there was no other way to dress it up.

Getting rid of our full-timers would save �440,000 a year – though how was not specified.

They said on-call firefighters in Felixstowe would be able to turn out a fire engine to every emergency – taking four minutes or so longer than a full-time crew – and most of the time would be able to man two appliances.

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But if the second team couldn’t make it, then the full-time crew at the new Ransomes Europark fire station would arrive instead, albeit ten minutes later, depending on traffic and the A14 not being blocked (admittedly rare) at that moment by a crash.

The big questions though centre on availability of firefighters.

Felixstowe has 21 on-call officers, ten already work as full-time firefighters, but the majority of the remaining 11 do not work locally. It leaves the service very stretched.

In fact, the on-call team has already told Mr Fry they believe they could not cope with the increased workload.

If there are not enough of them to get the second engine out, there will be many more times when the resort will rely on Ransomes – and how often will that crew be available?

That crew will also have their own area to cover, and could be sent further afield to help deal with large emergencies, or to cover for on-call fire crews in rural areas.

The fire service’s figures show that on many occasions rural stations cannot get their fire engine out at all – it’s “off the run” because there are simply not enough on-call officers available during the day as so few work locally these days.

Haverhill’s full-time cover is being reduced to week days and it would be prudent to do the same for Felixstowe, leaving weekends to the on-call crews when more of them are available. Alternatively, make no changes until Felixstowe’s on-call team is doubled in size.