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Warning over shortage of retained firefighters in Norfolk

09:10 06 August 2014

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service needs more retained firefighters to sign up. Pictured is Wroxham's retained crew. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service needs more retained firefighters to sign up. Pictured is Wroxham's retained crew. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Fire chiefs have warned their ability to respond to emergencies is being affected by a staff shortage.

Where are the vacancies?

• East Harling

• Mundesley

• Hingham

• Heacham

• Hunstanton

• Loddon

• Massingham

• North Walsham

• Outwell

• Reepham

• Stalham

• Sandringham

• Swaffham

• Terrington

• Wells

• West Walton

Fire chiefs have warned their ability to respond to emergencies is being affected by a staff shortage.

The region’s fire service has revealed the depth of the problem it is facing in recruiting enough “retained” firefighters – who provide the majority of its cover.

The paid, part-time crews man 39 of Norfolk’s 41 stations. But there is currently a shortfall of 27 personnel, leaving the service stretched across the region. In all, there are 492 retained firefighters in Norfolk and 188 full time.

In one recent incident, police had to enter a burning building in Swaffham to rescue a woman because the local fire station did not have enough staff to respond in time.

To be a retained firefighter you must...

Live and or work within five minutes of a fire station

Be 18 or over

Have good eyesight

Be mentally and physically fit – you will complete a medical examination

Be able to complete written test

Be available for up to 120 hours a week

Have the agreement of your employer

If you are interested in joining visit www.norfolkfireservice.gov.uk/nfrs/vacanciesmobile/84-retained-vacancies or call 01603 810351

Roy Harold, deputy chief fire officer for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said the shortfall was leading to reduced fire cover and appealed for more people to join its retained ranks.

“We are really struggling to recruit,” he said. “Retained firefighters are the service – and without them we would have very few fire engines in the county. If the fire engines are not available it is going to affect cover. That’s why we need more people to become retained.”

But Tristan Ashby, 42, from the Retained Firefighters’ Union, said the Norfolk brigade is not doing enough to recruit the retained firefighters. The former firefighter, from Attleborough, warned the brigade is on a downward spiral – which could end in tragedy.

He said: “If this continues then it’s going to get to a breaking point where they are not going to be able to respond to a major incident.

Roy Harold, the assistant chief fire officer, said the service is struggling to recruit the essential retained staff. Photo: Steve AdamsRoy Harold, the assistant chief fire officer, said the service is struggling to recruit the essential retained staff. Photo: Steve Adams

“All it takes is for the wrong type of incident to crop up at the wrong time. The [Norfolk] brigade are getting away with it by luck at the moment – but something has to give, and something will give before anyone does anything.”

As largely rural counties, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire rely heavily on retained crews. They must live and work within five minutes of a station and, when they have made themselves available, must carry pagers to alert them to any emergencies.

They are trained and equipped to the same standards as their full time counterparts, and paid about £7,000 a year. Most have a second job.

There are currently shortages at 16 Norfolk stations, among them Hingham, Heacham, Stalham and Sandringham. Because of minimum crewing requirements, when there is a shortfall, it can mean an engine cannot be sent out on an emergency.

The service aims to have 90pc of its engines available all the time, which fire bosses say is a high number compared to the national picture. But because of crew shortages, this has fallen to 85pc and is still dropping.

Across the region, having people on-call in the day is the biggest struggle.

One factor behind the recruitment problems are lifestyle changes which mean people’s working patterns have changed, with many living away from their workplace.

Fire bosses also worry that businesses are unsure about allowing their employees the flexibility to sign-up to the service.

But according to the service, the benefits are huge for employers as well as staff, including training individuals in trauma care and first aid.

In Suffolk, there are 30 vacancies at the 29 fully-retained stations. The Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it is always looking to recruit what it calls “on call” firefighters.

And crews in Cambridgeshire said they find it challenging to add to their current 270 on-call staff.

Not being able to get to an emergency because there are not enough firefighters available in the town or village is frustrating for most firefighters. Carl Mills, 50, watch manager at Wroxham, said it was a kick to morale when station numbers were low. “We are a community fire station,” he added. “We know all the people in the community and we want to help them. If we can’t get to a job then it is embarrassing to say we don’t have enough people to do it.”

Have you got a story about the region’s fire service? Email rosa.mcmahon@archant.co.uk

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