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Firefighter shortage means Norfolk crew cannot go out to emergencies

PUBLISHED: 09:33 10 March 2015 | UPDATED: 16:30 13 March 2015

The Norfolk Fire Station at Outwell. Picture: Ian Burt

The Norfolk Fire Station at Outwell. Picture: Ian Burt

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Fire chiefs have admitted that problems with recruiting retained firefighters means a Norfolk crew is currently unable to attend emergencies.

Sixteen fire stations in Norfolk are suffering from staff shortages, fire chiefs have said, as they struggle to find people willing to serve as retained firefighters.

And, at a meeting of Norfolk County Council next week, councillors will hear how, at Outwell in rural Norfolk, the problem means there are not enough firefighters to crew an engine in emergencies.

The station there has just five retained firefighters on its books and, with 12 generally needed to safely staff an engine, it means nearby crews are having to be called out in place of the Outwell crew.

Bosses at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service have given the issue of retained firefighter recruitment a red rating in their list of risks to the service.

In the report which will go to the communities committee next Wednesday, officers state: “The performance of a small number of stations in the more rural and sparsely populated areas of the county can have a significant impact upon the overall performance of the service.”

They said that, in Outwell, there are five on call staff, compared to the standard establishment of 12. The report stated: “A great deal of effort is being put into identifying potential recruits but until the number of staff has increased, the emergency response in this area is provided by Downham Market, West Walton and Wisbech.”

The service says there is currently a shortfall of 27 retained firefighters.

The fire service aims to have fire engines crewed by retained fire fighters available at least 90pc of the time, but between April and December last year it was 80.6pc. Figures for January show it has improved slightly to 81.2pc.

A county council spokesman said: “It’s always difficult to recruit firefighters to the more remote stations, and Outwell is no exception.

“We currently have one trainee at this station, who will in due course be joining the team, but we’re always looking for more people to sign up to become firefighters.

“Being a retained firefighter is a hugely rewarding experience, and we would encourage anyone who is interested to contact the service. You would need to live or work within five minutes of your local fire station.”

People can find out more by attending drill nights at stations. Details are available at www.norfolkfireservice.gov.uk or by calling the service’s headquarters on 01603 229023.

As reported, the retained crew from Earlham Fire Station has, on occasions, been moved to other stations.

The western and Swaffham districts have also been trialling a “pay as you go” initiative, in which stations where more than five firefighters are available are paid to support other stations.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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