‘Investment needed’ after fire service stretched by field blazes, union warns

PUBLISHED: 09:13 28 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:13 28 July 2018

Scenes from the Cockfield field fire in Bury St Edmunds  Picture: SUFFOLK FIRE & RESCUE

Scenes from the Cockfield field fire in Bury St Edmunds Picture: SUFFOLK FIRE & RESCUE

More investment is needed in the county’s fire service as a string of field fires from the summer heat leaves resources stretched, union representatives have claimed.

Phil Johnston, of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHPhil Johnston, of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

The Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union opposed cutbacks two years ago by the county council which saw £1million in savings by reducing numbers of full-time crewed fire engines.

But a string of field fires in the last two weeks has put increasing demand on retained firefighters, which the union says have been caused by the cuts.

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Suffolk branch, said: “They are working long hours on these fires in this heat, having to leave their normal places of work – it puts the strain on their employers as well and it’s a massive workload on them. That’s a concern for everyone.

“Our concern is how stretched services are. We are getting people from other departments to ride on fire engines, we are getting on-call firefighters in on weekends.”

Mr Johnston said there had been talk that firefighter instructors may even be needed on the fire engines in the coming weeks if the level of demand persists.

He added: “We said we cannot lose fire engines and now we are feeling the consequences of losing £1m from the budget.”

It is understood that Suffolk is around 40 retained firefighters short of its target. While eight new wholetime firefighters will start in the autumn, the union said at least eight were retiring in the next year anyway.

Dan Fearn, deputy chief fire officer from Suffolk Fire and Rescue, said: “Along with our UK colleagues, we have experienced an increased number of emergency calls linked to the extreme and protracted hot weather, which can be challenging when large incidents happen simultaneously.

“However our operational crews, control staff, non-operational teams and officers continue to work together to keep Suffolk safe. This can include operational staff working on fire stations where this ordinarily might not be the case, and it is safe for them to do so.

“Everyone being used to support our emergency response are operational personnel. Other staff undertake specific roles in support of these operational crews.

“I would especially like to thank our on-call firefighters, their families and employers for their continued efforts and commitment.

“We have some of the best appliances and equipment in the country and we have invested in new technology, such as drones, all-terrain Unimog vehicles and the Cobra system, which have all helped us to tackle fires more efficiently. Most importantly they increase the safety of our firefighters.”

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