Somerset retained firefighters in availability dispute

Nearly 200 retained firefighters in Somerset are refusing to declare when they are not available for emergencies.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue wants to improve its 999 response by using a computer programme called Gartan which monitors crewing levels.

The refusal means controllers do not know if stations have enough staff to form a crew.

Unions say retained firefighters need a contract which both suits them and the needs of the brigade.

If a fire engine is not on the road within seven minutes controllers ask a nearby station to respond.

The BBC has learned that in January 15 emergency calls in Somerset were passed on to the second, or even third station, before a crew responded.

That means a potential delay of up to 21 minutes before a fire engine is mobilised

'No guarantee'

Acting Chief Fire Officer, Peter Smith, said the brigade was in discussion with unions.

"We are in the process of taking this to a disputes' resolution panel at national level.

"I am confident once we get over that hurdle the Fire Brigades Union will be in a position where they will have to get their members to use the system."

Trevor French from the Fire Brigades' Union said retained firefighters in Devon had to use the system because they were contracted to do a certain number of hours - which was different to the existing system in Somerset.

"To move forward there needs to be a contract that suits both the retained firefighters and the brigade.

"No firefighter is comfortable with delays but that is the problem with the retained duty system.

"The only guarantee you have where fire engines are going to turn out within five minutes are at the full time stations.

"We are willing to sit down with management and discuss a modern way to work.

"We don't see the Gartan system as doing this - it doesn't guarantee a firefighter will attend."

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