Warning Norfolk Fire Service “black hole” could put lives at risk

A staffing “black hole” within Norfolk Fire Service could put lives at risk, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is warning.

Members claim that a new staffing system introduced last week is taking fire pumps out of action and favouring towns and cities over rural areas.

But Norfolk Fire Service has defended the new system and maintained that staff and resources have always been moved around the county to provide the best cover possible.

Under the new system, retained firefighters who are willing to provide extra cover are included in a list and called to help out at short-handed stations, including full-time stations.

Peter Greeves, Norfolk FBU chairman, claimed this would leave retained stations under-staffed, unable to keep their own engines on the road and ready for 999 calls.

“This is no way to run a professional, life-saving service like ours,” he said. “It can only be described as robbing Peter to pay Paul and importantly it leaves sections of our communities stripped of 999 fire cover in one part of the county to try to cover up a hole in the frontline somewhere else.

“The brigade is giving preferential treatment to wholetime stations while the towns and villages with retained stations are being left with at best reduced cover or no cover at all.”

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Secretary Jamie Wyatt added: “When you cut corners in our risk-critical profession you will inevitably put the lives of firefighters and the public we serve at risk.”

Deputy chief fire officer for Norfolk, Mike McCarthy, said: “The safety of our communities and our fire crew remains our number one priority and that won’t change. What has changed slightly is the way in which we deploy our firefighters in order to provide the best cover for the whole of Norfolk.

“On April 1 we introduced a list of firefighters willing to provide extra cover when and where it is needed across Norfolk in order to give us greater flexibility. These firefighters can be called in if required and deployed where needed. The list was used for the first time last weekend and worked well. These changes are part of our Safety Plan for 2011/14 which last year was subject to the most comprehensive consultation in our history.”