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Safety warning from union over reduced fire engine crew numbers

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

Mark Hardingham who is the new Suffolk Chief Fire Officer. (4400096)
Mark Hardingham who is the new Suffolk Chief Fire Officer. (4400096)

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

Previously, three-crew teams were allowed to attend incidents such as fire alarms, but not more serious calls.

A report presented to the county council’s scrutiny committee said the trial had been successful. There are now plans to make it normal practice across all retained ‘on-call’ fire stations.

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

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 .”

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer at Suffolk Fire and Rescue, said the trial had ‘improved the availability of rural fire stations during weekdays and weekends’.

Meanwhile, fire response times in Suffolk are nearly three minutes over national averages and nearly two minutes behind other rural areas, according to new figures.

Data published for Suffolk County Council reveals Suffolk Fire and Rescue’s average response time for a primary fire is 11 minutes and 24 seconds, while the national average for the whole of England is eight minutes 42 seconds – two minutes 42 seconds quicker.

In other rural areas like Suffolk, the average response time was nine minutes 48 seconds.

Mr Hardingham said: “Managers are constantly looking at ways to maintain and improve our speed of response.

“We regularly benchmark our performance with other fire services.”