Suffolk

Union fear Suffolk fire crew reduction puts 'lives at risk'

Suffolk FBU protest
Image caption Crews from around neighbouring counties joined the demonstration outside Suffolk County Council in Ipswich

Lives could be put at risk when engines are deployed with reduced crews, the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) claims.

Suffolk Fire Service has begun deploying crews of three firefighters on some call-outs.

More than 100 firefighters and union supporters demonstrated against changes being made in the county.

The FBU said crews need a minimum of five, but the county's chief fire officer said additional engines were being sent as back-up when needed.

The crews of three were being used in rural areas and on weekdays.

Suffolk County Council runs the county's fire service and the protest took place outside its Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said the decision to reduce crew numbers "was financially driven" and put firefighters "in an impossible situation".

He said: "If they accept there is a risk around the crew of three - which is why they suggested they need [to send] support - that applies in all circumstances.

"The safe procedures the firefighters need to fight fires cannot be carried out with the crew of three."

Image caption About 100 firefighters and other trade unionists supported the demonstration

Chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said "on the vast majority" of cases the service sent four, five or six firefighters per crew.

But he said: "There are occasions, particularly in more rural areas and during weekdays, where we only have reduced crew available.

"My view is we should send that reduced crew and send additional fire engines as well."

Mr Hardingham said the force had risk-assessed the change and "there are things three firefighters can do safely for the public when they get there".

He added that the change was not due to funding cuts but because of the service's "difficulty in recruiting and retaining on-call firefighters" as a result of changes in the way people live and work in rural counties.

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