Suffolk's fire crew shortages revealed

THE full extent of the shortage of firefighting cover in Suffolk can be revealed today.

Naomi Cassidy

THE full extent of the shortage of firefighting cover in Suffolk can be revealed today.

It has emerged that stations across the county are regularly forced to divert emergency calls to other stations because they cannot muster a crew.

Since July, there have been times when half of the retained fire stations in the county have not had adequate numbers of firefighters to attend incidents - meaning 999 calls were instead passed to the next nearest station.

Twenty-eight of the 35 fire stations in the county are retained stations and there are currently 455 retained firefighters employed.

However, because some of the retained firefighters are not always available, and recruitment for the role is generally poor, the stations have had to temporarily close, which can range from half an hour to a day.

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Suffolk County Council confirmed that the 11 stations which did not have adequate numbers of staff to deal with incidents at various times in July were Saxmundham, Wrentham, Orford, Nayland, Ixworth, Halesworth, Framlingham. Eye, Clare, Debenham, and Holbrook.

During the month, the stations were “off the run” for a combined total of more than 760 hours.

Sudbury station also had to close on five days in two weeks due to shortages in August while the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said Needham Market and Stradbroke stations had also been affected.

Steve Collins, a firefighter at Bury St Edmunds station and Suffolk secretary of the FBU, said: “We have issues with shortages throughout the county. The majority of Suffolk fire cover is retained and it is only the large towns that have 24-hour cover.

“There have been several times at different stations in the county when fire engines have not been available. The next nearest station would be alerted if it was an emergency call. Potentially it could cause a delay to attending an incident.”

Among the reasons for the lack of availability is that retained firefighters usually have a day job and carry out their firefighting work as a secondary employment. With the recession putting pressures on companies, some employers are now less likely to allow their employees to leave work for emergency calls.

Last year Suffolk County Council agreed to improve and secure the long term viability of the retained duty system. An officer has now been appointed for an initial 12-month period to manage the plans.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Sanderson said: "The recruitment and retention of part-time, retained firefighters across the UK has become increasingly difficult in recent years.

“This trend is reflected in Suffolk and steps have been taken to improve the situation by, for example, introducing an arrangement where firefighters from other stations stand-by at retained fire stations that are understaffed for periods of the day.

“Nevertheless there are still some occasions when we don't have enough firefighters available to keep all our fire engines available and this is a matter of concern. However, where the local fire station is not available the next nearest fire engine will always be sent to ensure that you are protected in an emergency.”

Rae Leighton, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for public protection, said: "There are a number of fire stations where vacancies exist and we welcome this opportunity to remind people who live in these towns to call into their local fire station if they would like to discuss a future in the fire and rescue service. The fire stations where we are currently seeking recruits are Framlingham, Orford, Stradbroke and Eye.”

FIGURES released to the EADT have identified some the stations facing the problems.

Nayland fire station spent more than a week unmanned during July as firefighters were unavailable on 53 occasions, totalling 188 hours.

Orford had 159 “off the run” hours in July, and Wrentham could not operate for 156.

Others which experienced only a minor problem included Halesworth, with three unmanned periods, and Debenham, inoperable for five hours.

Suffolk currently employs 455 retained firefighters - all stations have either a retained firefighter section or are wholly crewed by part-timers.

Even though this figure exceeds the agreed establishment of 444, there are still vacancies at Framlingham, Orford, Stradbroke and Eye.

Station No. of OTRs* No. of hours

Saxmundham 15 75

Wrentham 23 156

Orford 17 159

Nayland 53 188

Ixworth 12 39

Halesworth 3 6

Framlingham 15 54

Eye 9 26

Clare 8 47

Debenham 8 5

Holbrook 4 11

*Periods during which the station was “off the run” (these are not whole days).

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