Victory as fire crews go back to sea

SUFFOLK firefighters will once again be tackling fires at sea, less than two years after the county council made the controversial decision to scrap the service because of fears over cost and insurance cover.

SUFFOLK firefighters will once again be tackling fires at sea, less than two years after the county council made the controversial decision to scrap the service because of fears over cost and insurance cover.

Today's news marks a huge victory for campaigners, including the Evening Star, who have been fighting to get the volunteer crews reinstated since they were disbanded last September in a bid to save just £9,000.

From next April, the Suffolk brigade will provide one of the 12 rapid response teams of 50 firefighters around the coastline of the United Kingdom ready to tackle fire and other emergencies at sea.

Although detailed planning is at an early stage, the new Suffolk crew is expected to join with a team from Lincolnshire in protecting the North Sea coast from the Humber Estuary to the Thames.


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The council said their original reasons for scrapping the service were concerns over insurance arrangements for personnel and problems providing adequate land cover throughout the county if personnel were dealing with a disaster at sea.

But this decision means that, at present, any fires off the coast of Suffolk must be dealt with by crews from Lincolnshire – 100 miles away.

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Thankfully, such incidents are rare, but with the continued expansion of both Felixstowe and Harwich ports the need for adequate fire cover is greater than ever.

Peter Monk, Suffolk county council's portfolio holder for public protection, said there was now a national recognition that there had to be a co-ordinated approach to dealing with incidents on ships at sea.

"In all honesty, we had been lumbered with providing the cover in the North Sea on a volunteer basis and we pulled out because we had major concerns over insurance for our personnel, and how we could cover emergencies throughout the county at the same time.

"Costs for dealing with incidents at sea can now be recovered by fire authorities thanks to the Maritime Safety Act introduced this year, while the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) will fund training and equipment."

Mr Monk added: "This co-ordinated approach replaces the ad hoc arrangements which last year we felt we could no longer support."

Malcolm Alcock, Suffolk's chief fire officer, said: "The re-establishment of a fully funded firefighting at sea team will assist us in dealing more effectively with inshore/estuary incidents for which we have statutory responsibilities.

"With careful planning and rostering of crew members, the impact on the availability of firefighters for normal duty can be effectively managed and fore cover for land based incidents unaffected."

The firefighters' pay award will cost Suffolk £125,000 this year. The nationally imposed agreement gives a wage rise of 7% from November, which is 3% more than provided in this year's county council budget.

Councillors will be asked next week to cover the cost because modernisation and efficiency savings being introduced to fund the agreement will not have been worked into the system.

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