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Suffolk plan for three-member fire crews putting lives at risk, union warns

PUBLISHED: 16:07 25 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:07 25 September 2018

Three engines attended the scene on the dual carriageway Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Three engines attended the scene on the dual carriageway Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Lives are being put at risk by reducing crew numbers aboard Suffolk’s on-call fire engines, union bosses have warned.

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, said the three-crew plans were putting the lives of the public and firefighters at risk Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHPhil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, said the three-crew plans were putting the lives of the public and firefighters at risk Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

In March Suffolk County Council launched a trial to send on-call fire engines to all incidents with three crew members instead of four.

Previously three-crew teams were allowed to go to select incidents such as fire alarms, but not more serious calls like road traffic accidents or open fires.

A report presented to the county council’s scrutiny committee said the trial has proved successful, and there are now plans to extend it into normal practice across all on-call fire stations.

But the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has been against the plans from the outset, has warned it is an accident waiting to happen.

Chief fire officer Mark Hardingham pointed to improved availability at rural on-call fire stations Picture: GREGG BROWNChief fire officer Mark Hardingham pointed to improved availability at rural on-call fire stations Picture: GREGG BROWN

Phil Johnston, FBU chairman for the Suffolk brigade, said: “This could lead to a member of the public getting seriously hurt or killed because of this reduced policy. This could be a firefighter at serious risk or worse – they [county council] will stop the policy then if that happens.”

Mr Johnston said there were no national standards for sending crews with less than four members, and said that removing the limits on what incidents three-crew teams could attend was “lowering the bar too much”.

He added: “They [county council] will say there is always something we can do, and there is, but the moral question of [a three-person crew] turning up to a house fire is too great, and putting that firefighter at too great a risk.”

The FBU said it had made its views clear at the start of the trial, and is now considering making a representation through its health and safety rep to reiterate the concerns.

The trial stemmed from difficulties with on-call availability at rural stations, but the FBU said it was more financial incentive and not reduced crews that were needed.

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue, said: “One recent initiative has been to extend the type of incidents to which we are prepared to send a reduced crew of three on-call firefighters, who are then supported by more firefighters from surrounding fire stations.

“This started earlier this year and has improved the availability of rural fire stations during weekdays and weekends, when on-call firefighters are sometimes unavailable due to their primary employment or family and other commitments.

“Of course, the best thing a home owner can do to improve their safety from fire is to fit smoke alarms on each floor of their house and test them regularly.”

Alongside the three-member trials, a light rescue pump has been in operation from Wrentham fire station with a crew of between two and five members, with the fire service reviewing this “with a view to potentially extending the approach to other rural fire stations”, according to the scrutiny papers.

Mr Johnston also expressed fears over that being rolled out further.

The fire service in Suffolk is understood to be short of 42 on-call firefighters, with Mr Johnston stating that the service is “losing about that number every year”.

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