Remember, remember: Spare our fire services

The fire in Market Hill, Sudbury, September 6. ANL-151021-113841001
The fire in Market Hill, Sudbury, September 6. ANL-151021-113841001

Today the Suffolk Free Press is backing calls to keep two fire engines at Sudbury fire station.

Praise was heaped on firefighters last month for the brave and skilled way in which they brought under control a massive blaze which threatened both life and an ever greater chunk Sudbury’s historic town centre.

Sudbury fire station campaign to save towns second fire engine.'Picture Mark Westley ANL-151020-201321009

Sudbury fire station campaign to save towns second fire engine.'Picture Mark Westley ANL-151020-201321009

In short, it could have been a lot worse.

Suffolk County Council needs to save a lot of money, that is understood, and there are no easy choices as it looks to save £1 million from its fire service budget.

But last month’s fire, even if thankfully rare, should act as the warning sign that frontline services must be maintained in order to protect public safety and people’s property. These are basic, fundamental services that people pay taxes in order to fund.

Suffolk County Council has not confirmed they will take away Sudbury’s second fire engine, but the lack of clarity on the matter is worrying.

The fire in Market Hill, Sudbury, September 6. ANL-151021-113858001

The fire in Market Hill, Sudbury, September 6. ANL-151021-113858001

Serving and ex-firefighters, councillors, and members of the public are deeply concerned about the future, in an area which will grow still further with housing developments.

There is still time to make voices heard before Suffolk County Council’s cabinet meeting on November 10, where proposals for the whole of the county’s fire service will be discussed.

Cuts are needed, but there comes a point where public safety must take priority and lines must be drawn.

On Tuesday former firefighters and councillors joined forces with the Free Press to protest against the loss of Sudbury’s second fire engine.

Although Suffolk County Council say no decision has been made on where the cuts will come from, it is known that the county’s fire service will see a budget reduction in the region of £1million a year.

With the loss of the town’s second appliance having been placed on a reserve list of cuts in the past, it is feared this time Sudbury will face the chop, which has sparked opposition.

There is concern that the loss of the second appliance from the on-call station would leave cover thin on the ground across the area.

Sudbury is the only two-appliance station in South Suffolk, with anxiety over the possible consequences of another disaster such as that seen in Sudbury town centre on September 6.

Former firefighter Alan Humphreys, 73, said: “You can’t keep cutting. Does somebody need to die before sense prevails? We were lucky last time. Two people nearly died in that fire, a lady and a fireman.”

Sudbury mayor Jack Owen, who has backed the Free Press campaign, said: “It goes without saying as far as I’m concerned the cutting of our fire service is not going to be acceptable.

“It annoys me when we keep having to go through this process of having to justify having any emergency service to prevent things like what we saw in Friars Street.

“I don’t think we should be putting the public at risk. We need to let the fire chiefs know the feelings in Sudbury.

“I think that if we don’t show solidarity in opposition to these sorts of things the powers that be will see it as read and cut.”

Former firefighters and residents from the town met with Mr Owen and deputy mayor Sue Ayres on Tuesday to show their opposition.

Next week the Free Press is leading another protest at the Fire Station, calling all townspeople to meet at the fire station in Gregory Street at 1pm on Tuesday.

Ian Cameron, another former firefighter, said: “We need to maintain what we have got. We need to fight.

“Anybody who has ever been grateful for the fire services should turn up and make their feelings known.”

A key theme of concern from many was the planned population rises in the town, with Sudbury town councillor Ellen Murphy saying: “We should be looking at increasing the fire services, not cutting them.”

Fellow town councillor Luke Cresswell, who has been one of the main opponents to the loss of a second appliance added: “If our town is going to continue being developed on then the emergency services must also be developed. With more housing and people, we need to see money invested into our vital services, not cut.

“Sudbury frequently responds to emergencies across a wide area, especially as retained stations in villages find it difficult to recruit retained fire-fighters. If Sudbury loses one engine and we have two emergencies, then the consequences could be tragic.

“I believe standing up to county, as a community, is our best chance of winning. This is a cut that could affect anybody in the town, there is no prejudice.”

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet will meet on November 10 to decide where the cuts will come from, before fire chiefs attend that evenings Sudbury Town Council meeting.

However, campaigners say leaving the fight until then could be too late, with the last round of cuts seeing every proposal passed, regardless of the feedback from the following consultation.

To show your support for Sudbury’s fire services meet at Sudbury Fire Station at 1pm on Tuesday.

You can also email your concerns to ian.parker@suffolkfreepress.co.uk or write to Suffolk Free Press, Borehamgate, Sudbury, CO10 2EE.