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Permanent fire crews of three dubbed as "dangerous" by firefighter union

PUBLISHED: 15:57 01 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:35 04 February 2019

Reduced crews can attend any type of incident in Suffolk, following permanenet changes to the Suffolk Fire and Rescue policy. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Reduced crews can attend any type of incident in Suffolk, following permanenet changes to the Suffolk Fire and Rescue policy. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The union supporting firefighters in Suffolk has warned the permanent rollout of on-call firefighters featuring just three crew members to all incidents is "dangerous" and "unnecessary".

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, had raised concerns over the safety of using crews of three. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHPhil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, had raised concerns over the safety of using crews of three. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

On Friday, February 1, Suffolk Fire and Rescue permanently launched its updated policy where on-call fire crews would be staffed by just three firefighters for any type of incident.

The Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union has repeatedly urged the service not to continue the scheme, as it would mean the same level of response could not be provided.

In an emotional message on its Facebook page, the union said: “We believe the training that has been delivered to our on call firefighters is woefully inadequate and does not fully address the unworkable and unsafe reality of attending an emergency call with a crew of three.

“The moral pressure for firefighters to act in a dynamic and emotionally charged atmosphere could lead to rash, unsafe decision making, resulting in dire consequences.

Mark Hardingham from Suffolk Fire and Rescue said the measure had improved availability at rural on-call stations. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMark Hardingham from Suffolk Fire and Rescue said the measure had improved availability at rural on-call stations. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“Suffolk Fire Brigades Union are not prepared to risk the safety of our on call firefighters by agreeing imposed policies that demand they work to lower safety standards than their whole time colleagues. In addition, we refuse to accept that residents of Suffolk should receive a lesser standard of response than residents of neighbouring counties.”

Other issues were raised such as the potential mental health implications on firefighters, and the level of life-saving service that could be delivered with a reduced crew.

Suffolk County Council launched a trial in March last year to send crews of three to all incidents.

Previously, only select calls such as automatic fire alarms would be allowed.

Richard Rout, cabinet member for public protection said there was a place for three-firefighter crews. Picture: SCCRichard Rout, cabinet member for public protection said there was a place for three-firefighter crews. Picture: SCC

Last year, Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer said the scheme had improved the staffing of rural fire stations during weekdays and weekends, when availability was at its most limited because of on-call firefighters being at work.

The issue was raised during Tuesday’s county council cabinet meeting, where the policy was defended by councillor Richard Rout, cabinet member for public protection.

He cited the recruitment of on-call firefighters as a challenge and added: “Officers have spent several years looking at reduced crewing arrangements, and the new approach has been piloted at 10 stations for 12 months.

“We are not the only fire and rescue service doing this, and the key message is there is something a crew of three can do before any other appliance arrives, and I do think they have a role to play.”

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