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Cambridgeshire firefighters protest ‘dangerous’ reduction in crews sizes

“Firefighters are protesting against what their union calls a “dangerous” reduction in crew sizes at the official opening of a new fire station today (Wednesday, November 29).

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) cut on-call firefighters to three per crew in January as part of a trial. Five firefighters are recommended where lives are at risk.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service Picture: Cambs FRS
Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service Picture: Cambs FRS

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the “dangerous policy” is putting firefighters’ lives on the line.

A fire engine with only three firefighters on board will be forced to wait for back-up to arrive so that they can properly, and safely, respond to life-threatening incidents, it says.

The protest is taking place this morning at the official opening of Huntingdon Fire Station and Service Training Centre.

Mark Harriss, FBU Cambridgeshire brigade secretary, said: “Today, Cambridgeshire firefighters are making it clear that we won’t quietly accept public and firefighter safety being put at risk. A crew of three firefighters is not equipped to safely enter a burning building. No fire service should be putting their firefighters in this dangerous position.

“New fire stations and fire engines are useless without firefighters. We have lost around 12,000 firefighter posts in the UK since 2010. We need urgent investment and recruitment instead of firefighters’ lives being put on the line in this way. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service must start listening and end this dangerous policy now.”

Chief fire officer Chris Strickland said: “We are not ‘cutting’ crew levels to three. We will always strive to have at least four and ideally five on a fire engine. However, we often have three firefighters available at on-call stations who can get to an incident in their local town or village quicker than the next nearest fire engine. In these situations, we are now allowing that fire engine to attend with a crew of three, backed up by the normal number of fire engines we would send to that incident.

“A crew of three on a fire engine is able to deal with many incidents quickly and safely, improving the service being provided to many rural areas.”

When the policy was initially announced last year, Mr Strickland explained: “Our rural towns and villages are covered by on-call fire stations, so firefighters carry pagers, go about their daily business and if an emergency occurs in their area, their alerter goes off and they rush to the fire station to crew the fire engine.

“We struggle to recruit on-call firefighters – for a whole host of reasons – and often our rurally-based fire engines are deemed ‘unavailable for use’ as there are less than four firefighters available to crew them. We therefore often send the next fully crewed fire engine that is available but that can be several miles away, increasing the time it takes for us to arrive. By allowing a crew of three to respond to all incident types, we can get a fire engine to incidents much quicker and the crew can either deal with the incident safely, or get everything ready to start dealing with the incident as soon as more resources arrive.”

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