Fire service cuts ‘undermine safety’

Bury St Edmunds Fire Station
Bury St Edmunds Fire Station

New figures from Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service show falling response times and fewer on-call firefighters.

The figures were presented to a meeting of the cross-party Suffolk Fire and Rescue Steering Group this week.

They show that response times in all three attendance categories are down on 2015 with Response Standard 1 – for the first appliance at the scene of a fire within 11 minutes – falling by more than 12 per cent in the third quarter of 2016, following the removal of appliances and crews from Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

The availability of on-call firefighters is also down on 2015 with the county-wide average falling by almost 1 per cent.

The full impact of the cuts to the fire service in places like Bury St Edmunds will not be fully known for several years, but early indications are notpositive,” said Cllr Peter Gardiner, Labour spokesman for public protection.

“The cuts were unwise and are already undermining the safety of people in and around Bury.

“With more houses, more business, more residents, more traffic, this situation is only going to get more hazardous.

On-call availability in the west of Suffolk fell from 92.74 per cent in 2015 to 90.5 per cent in 2016, with Response Standard 1 falling from 73.17 per cent to 71.87 per cent in the same time period.

Response Standard 2 – attendance within 16 minutes – fell from 77.23 per cent to 75.99 per cent.

Matthew Hicks, cabinet member for environment and public protection, said: “The Conservative administration continues to recognise the importance of our fire and rescue service and has, over recent years, done everything possible to protect it against reductions in grant funding from the Government.

“We have progressed with investment in fire stations, training facilities, fire engines, firefighting clothing and equipment; ensuring our firefighters and officers are afforded the best protection with the newest safety equipment.”

As a ‘good example’, he pointed to the operational launch this week of the first of their newest fleet of engines at Bury St Edmunds Fire Station.

He added: “On-call firefighters provide a vital service to their local communities and the wider fire service by providing operational cover alongside their primary employment, which means the on-call availability profile is constantly changing.

“We continue to work hard to recruit on-call firefighters and will continue to introduce measures and more flexibility to improve the availability of on-call fire stations across the county and I am pleased that a further 14 new recruits are about to start the training in the coming days.”