‘It’s madness’: Fireman’s fury over proposal to axe second fire engine

Sudbury's protest against the possible cuts to the fire service in the town and the possible loss of the town's second fire engine. the campaign is being backed by the SFP. ANL-151027-135656009
Sudbury's protest against the possible cuts to the fire service in the town and the possible loss of the town's second fire engine. the campaign is being backed by the SFP. ANL-151027-135656009

Fireman’s fury over proposal to axe second fire engine

Paul Carrington, who is one of 21 on-call crew members at the station, as well as being a full-time firefighter in Ipswich, questioned how the proposal from Suffolk County Council could be put forward and a consultation started, before figures on staff cuts or even a replacement vehicle had been chosen.

The consultation will begin if, as expected, the council’s cabinet agrees with the proposals at a meeting on November 10.

There have been campaigns in the town to save the second engine, which the Free Press has backed, with renewed calls from firefighters and councillors for public support for the cause.

The loss of the fire engine comes as Suffolk County Council looks to save £1.3million from the county’s fire services.

Any replacement rapid response vehicle would be likely to enter service in 2018, with the current fire engine remaining until that time.

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, confirmed there would be fewer on-call crew members required, but said the exact figure would not be known until a decision on the type of replacement vehicle had been made.

This has been highly criticised by Mr Carrington who said crew members had no clue on the details of the proposal.

Mr Carrington said: “We have asked before which appliance they are getting rid of but we haven’t been given an answer.”

He suggested the rapid response vehicle was simply a “sweetener” to residents.

Adding: “We won’t be able to carry our duties out as we do now. We’ve got no idea how we are going to operate. There’s not a proposal, there’s nothing.

“From the guys’ point of view this uncertainty is unhelpful. There’s no cost breakdown of savings as they don’t know what the reduction in staff will be.

“It’s madness, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.”

Mr Carrington also asked why Sudbury, ranked the seventh busiest station in the county, saw cuts ahead of Newmarket and Haverhill, both of which are fully operational with full-time firefighters, despite receiving less call-outs.

The second engine in Sudbury accounted for 29 per cent of all call-outs in Sudbury, with 19.5 per cent of calls to the station requiring more than one engine.

There has been an angry backlash on social media from Sudbury residents.

Despite public anger, fire chiefs have insisted the county’s fire service will still offer adequate protection.

Mark Hardingham, chief fire officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, said figures showed that the number of call-outs was reducing, with homes now safer and prevention becoming much more important.

Supporting the proposals, he said rapid response vehicles could actually improve services in some instances.

“When you get a call and the crew start to come in, some get in the first one-to-two minutes, others are up to six-to-nine minutes,” he said.

“The first two or three can be on the rapid response vehicle and on their way.”

However Mr Carrington used the example of road traffic collisions, where he said at least four crew members were needed and so a full-sized engine was necessary.

Mr Hardingham insisted he would not “downgrade” the scale of the cuts and the challenges the service faced, but said: “I would not be putting these proposals forward if I wasn’t satisfied that we are still going to have a really good and sustainable fire service.”

He confirmed staff cuts were likely, with fewer crew needed to man the smaller vehicles.

Sudbury was not alone in being hit with cuts, with Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich both losing appliances.

However, services will not be cut at nearby stations in Long Melford, Clare, Nayland or Hadleigh.

There will also be cuts to the management team and to back office support.

Sudbury mayor Jack Owen has questioned the safety of the town with its many historical, wooden buildings and the planned population increases.

The cuts to the service are to be discussed by Sudbury Town Council next week.

Mr Hardingham will be joined by Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for environment and public protection, at the town council meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Owen said: “We will question them and ask them to justify their decision.”

Members of the public are welcome at the meeting in the town hall, which starts at 7pm.

Following the cabinet decision on November 10, there will be a 14-week public consultation period.