Union warns fire response times review may lead to 'postcode lottery'

A review into fire crews' response times is set to be discussed by the Suffolk County Council cabinet.

A review into fire crews' response times is set to be discussed by the Suffolk County Council cabinet. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Plans to review targets for fire response times could lead to a "postcode lottery", union representatives have claimed.

Suffolk County Council's cabinet will discuss plans for a review of the county fire service's speed of response targets at the meeting next week.

The current targets are for the first fire engine to arrive at all property fires within 11 minutes, and the second to arrive within 16 minutes in 80% of all calls. And for the first crew to arrive at car crashes within 13 minutes in 80% of calls.

Papers for the cabinet meeting show that they missed these targets by between 10-14% for all cases. 

The new proposal was developed by a panel of councillors but delayed for several months by a national review carried out by the National Fire Chiefs Council.

If the cabinet approves the plans the review will be carried out over the next year.

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch.

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch. - Credit: Archant

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union's Suffolk Brigade, said the union was concerned that "the clock will be stopped" when a crew of fewer than five firefighters arrived at an incident after a "reduction in safe crewing levels on fire appliances".

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He said: "In recognition of Suffolk FRS's continued failure each year to meet their current response standards for only approximately 20% of total incidents, our fear is that they will set new response standards based on what they currently achieve, as opposed to what is reasonable or expected from the public of Suffolk.

"The failure to meet these standards is mainly due to the rural nature of the county, and often due to the well-known and accepted problems around the 'retained' response model, however, we don't believe anyone should receive a service based on a national or even local postcode lottery.”

Mr Johnston also called for the union to be included in the decision-making process as an "interested party".

Councillor Andrew Reid, cabinet member for Public Health and Public Protection, said crews always arrived as soon as possible, as had been shown throughout the recent heatwave.

Andrew Reid, Chairman of Suffolk’s Alcohol Strategy Partnership Group

Andrew Reid, cabinet member for Public Health and Public Protection - Credit: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

He added: “Regarding our response time targets, these were set in 2018 as part of our Integrated Risk Management Plan and there are no national standards.

"Although we have not quite met our own challenging targets, we will continue to work towards improving our response through our performance framework and member scrutiny to enable us to best serve our communities.

“I understand that response to emergencies is about more than just beating the clock, which is why we have invested heavily in our Service over recent years through building and refurbishing fire stations, as well as providing training and state-of-the-art equipment, to help give our firefighters the best tools to continue their inspiring, lifesaving work.

“Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service wholly supports the recommendations coming from the PDP’s review and their continuing work over the next year, and I thank them for their efforts.”