UPDATE: Bury St Edmunds could lose one of its fire engines in plans to cut costs
Concerns have been raised into ‘dangerous’ plans to cut the number of fire engines and on-call firefighters in Bury St Edmunds.
Proposals have been put forward to slash more than £1 million from the service’s budget over the next three years to make up for a reduction in government funding.
If cabinet agrees the recommendations on November 10, Bury could lose one of its three fire engines, crewed by on-call firefighters.
Meanwhile, Ipswich would lose three of its six engines, one of Sudbury’s two engines would be replaced by a rapid response vehicle, and Wrentham fire station, near Lowestoft, would close completely.
Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham said of the 21 current on-call firefighters based at Bury, around ten could lose their jobs.
The fire authority report’s impact assessment concedes that ‘a reduction in the number of fire engines in Bury would result in the remaining on-call fire engine being busier than is currently the case’ and that ‘on-call fire stations surrounding Bury are also expected to attend more incidents if these proposals are agreed.’
It goes on to say ‘the reduction in the number of fire engines would most likely increase response times for subsequent simultaneous incidents when the two Bury fire engines were already committed to an emergency’.
Asked by the Bury Free Press what this would mean in the event of another fire like that of Cupola House in 2012, Chief Fire Officer Hardingham said engines from outside Bury would be deployed to provide cover.
“The vast majority of incidents we attend, around 93 percent, are dealt with by two fire engines”, he said.
“Incidents with multiple engines are few and far between. “We will have two engines in Bury with engines in the surrounding area such as Elmswell, Ixworth and Wickhambrook.
“We can also call in further engines from around the county, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk as well.”
On the likelihood that response times would increase he said he didn’t expect it to take longer for the first or second engines to arrive at the scene of an incident.
But Andy Vingoe, Chairman of Suffolk’s Fire Brigade Union, said the proposals were ‘ludicrous’ and would put people at risk.
“It’s dangerous, it is very dangerous,” he said.
“It is crazy to make these cuts, absolutely ridiculous.
“The savings they have outlined today is around £1.3 million, now that is just £1.80 per head of population per year. “I think most people would find that a small price to pay for a fire service.”
Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Environment and Public Protection, said: “When looking at the proposal it is against the background of 999 calls that have fallen 50 percent in the last ten years nationally and 26 percent in Suffolk over the past five years despite an increase in houses and population.
“The bottom line is of the £22.2 million of the fire service budget we have to find savings of £1.3 million through to 2018.
“That is a six percent reduction.”
If County Council’s cabinet agrees the recommendations, a consultation will begin on November 16 and conclude on February 22.
A final decision will be made in April or May, 2016.