Suffolk's interim fire chief has praised the "exceptional" work of crews and support staff in dealing with challenging circumstances while taking on additional responsibilities in the fight against Covid-19.

Statistics have shown that firefighters attended more incidents in the year ending March 2021 (5,309) than in the previous 12 months (5,107)

Although house fires fell from 303 to 284 in that time, there was an increase in smaller, outdoor, secondary fires involving things like rubbish, grassland and derelict buildings from 773 to 886.

Chimney fires also increased from 78 to 93, and false alarms also went up from 2,318 to 2,450.

Meanwhile, attendance at road traffic accidents fell from 286 to 189 as people stayed indoors and refrained from travelling.

Last year's small reduction in house fires fitted a trend, said the service, but could also have been due to people being more aware of their surroundings and potential fire risks, and being able to stop potential incidents developing.

It is also hoped that, by spending time at home, more people have been fitting and regularly testing smoke alarms.

The biggest percentage increase in type of incident was the removal of objects from people – up 110% from 25 to 53 – the most since recorded data began in 2009/10.

The fire service said similar increases had been experienced around the country – perhaps due to fewer people visiting emergency departments at hospitals for help.

Nearly all incidents were said to be for the removal of rings from fingers, with people either travelling to a local fire station for help, or crews called to care homes and hospitals to assist with specialist cutting equipment.

Interim fire chief, Dan Fearn said the pandemic had brought many operational challenges, but that staff had shown exceptional dedication, whether in support roles or on the front line, with much of the Covid response taking place behind the scenes among non-operational staff, who ran the Copdock regional testing centre booking system in the early stages, while protection and prevention teams helped establish community testing hubs.

Staff also supported the organisation of PPE stocks, provided additional resource to the coroner’s office and supported the multi-agency Suffolk Resilience Forum, while community safety teams continued to work with those most at risk from fire in the home, and protection officers continued to support businesses to remain safe and operational.

“We have experienced our staff catching Covid and sometimes firefighters have needed to self-isolate," he added.

"But we have always been able to manage our crew coverage and been ready to respond to emergency calls.

“Our firefighters have been exceptional, working in challenging circumstances whilst taking on additional responsibilities to join the fight against Covid in Suffolk.

"Some have been volunteer ambulance drivers, while others made welfare visits to vulnerable residents in the early stages of the pandemic.”