Rural fire stations out of action for months at a time
Some rural fire stations in Devon and Somerset are out of action for almost five months out of the year as fire chiefs struggle to recruit part-time firefighters, figures obtained by the Western Morning News reveal.
The Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) says the unavailability shows that part-time staff – who are to replace six full-time crews under "devastating" cuts made last month – cannot provide the "resilience" needed.
The fire service admits it has problems with daytime cover in some areas but claims the overall response is good – at 95% – and says 34 stations are always ready to roll.
The 83 fire stations in the two counties were "off the run" for a total of 2,085 hours, or 86 days, a snapshot of downtime last month has revealed.
NEW IN : for those cold winter nights highland check dog and cat beds in stock, fleecy and washable ideal for those nights snuggling by the fire...... available in 3 colourways
Contact: 01271 440626
Valid until: Saturday, January 25 2014
Some rural stations recorded up to 34 separate incidents where appliances were not available to attend an emergency call in a three-week period. Cornwall is unaffected.
The retained crew at Modbury was unavailable for a third of the 21 days and down for 3,608 hours in 2012 – 41% or almost five months. Porlock, on Exmoor, was down for eight days, covering 37 incidents, and last year could not raise a crew for 3,266 hours, some 37% of the time, equal to more than four months. The FBU said the figures reveal the dangers of relying on "on-call" crews.
Devon and Somerset official Bob Walker said: "We have long realised the strain that is put upon retained fire fighters balancing their primary employment with that of serving their communities. This is why when the chief fire officer put forward such devastating cuts in urban areas we stressed that the plan to operate on call stations rather than whole time was wholly inappropriate and simply did not offer the resilience that was needed."
Members of the planning authority waved through proposals by fire chief Lee Howell to scale back six full-time crews to on-call, as part of plans to save £5.5 million. Taunton, Ilfracombe, Torquay and Plymouth, where three stations are to go to retained status, are all affected.
In Torquay, tens of thousands signed a petition, and in Plymouth, there is now serious concern over cover.
Plymouth city councillor John Smith, who represents Southway ward, says there are concerns that a major incident at Lee Mill, where around 80 metric tonnes of Calor gas are stored, or the fuel depot at Cattedown, could stretch cover beyond the limit.
Assistant chief fire officer Trevor Stratford said all fire and rescue services experience difficulties in maintaining daytime cover from time to time during the week.
He described the down time as "intermittent" but said a "handful were low on staff numbers".
"We have now introduced a new availability system to monitor fire stations more effectively and are looking at innovative ways to resolve local issues," he added.
"In terms of the five stations at which the second wholetime appliance will in future be crewed by on-call firefighters, it is worth repeating that their first-response fire appliance will continue to be crewed by whole-time firefighters."
The Service is recruiting in Dartmouth, Lynton, Modbury, Porlock, Princetown, Nether Stowey and Chagford.