Suffolk fire stations ‘missed’ 200 calls
THERE were more than 200 fire service call-outs last year when a crew from the nearest station was unable to attend due to shortages, new figures have revealed.
Suffolk County Council said the ongoing shortage of on-call, or retained, firefighters in the county 'remains a concern'.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that many rural stations struggled to raise a five-strong crew for much of last year.
It led to 204 emergency calls last year when the nearest station was 'off the run' and firefighters had to be sent from elsewhere.
The problem worsened in the second half of the year, with 117 'missed' calls, compared to 87 in the first half.
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Most of Suffolk is covered by retained fire stations, where part-time firefighters are on call to respond to incidents as and when they happen.
But many towns and villages are struggling to recruit retained officers who live and work locally to be able to provide 24-7 coverage.
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The figures show the Saxmundham crew were unable to respond to 37 incidents last year, while Nayland 'missed' 28, Framlingham 25 and Eye 24.
Suffolk currently has 453 on-call firefighters affiliated to 35 retained stations. They work alongside four full-time stations; two in Ipswich and one each in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft; while Felixstowe, Haverhill and Newmarket have day-only full-time crews.
The on-call station at Eye has a pool of just eight firefighters, while Framlingham, Wrentham, Nayland and Saxmundham rely on nine each.
Dan Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: 'It is unacceptable that rural, central Suffolk does not have adequate fire provision round the clock.
'Retained fire crews do a very good job looking after the people of rural Suffolk but the county does not have enough full-time firefighters working alongside them.
'There is a need for the county to invest in a better mix of retained and full-time firefighters to plug some of these gaps.'
Adrian Mason, Suffolk secretary of the Retained Firefighters' Union and watch manager at Woodbridge station, said: 'It's a fact that it's harder to recruit people from the smaller communities at the moment.
'The workforce in some of these towns has diminished and people are more reluctant to be released from their employers to do firefighting duties.'
Phil Embury, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Suffolk, said: 'Fortunately, the proportion of calls Suffolk Fire Brigade receives and which the local station cannot respond is just 2.5%.
'This does not however mean that the call is not answered as it's passed to the next available station. Nevertheless, the availability of on-call fire engines remains a concern.
'We recognise that passing calls on to the next available station can cause delays which is why Suffolk County Council is investing in a new monitoring system is reduce this.
He added: 'Some of our stations have more availability problems than others and in these areas we are actively recruiting more personnel.'
MOST MISSED CALLS IN 2010