Fire union hits at retained staff ban

STEVE DOWNES Lives could be put at risk across Norfolk because of a “preposterous” decision to ban members of the county's new anti-terror unit from serving as retained firefighters on their days off, it is claimed.

STEVE DOWNES

Lives could be put at risk across Norfolk because of a “preposterous” decision to ban members of the county's new anti-terror unit from serving as retained firefighters on their days off, it is claimed.

The move by Norfolk Fire Service could reduce the number of experienced crew members at some of the county's stations, union leaders said.

But fire bosses remained “confident” that response levels would not be reduced and said they needed to see what the demands of the new Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) unit were before a long-term decision was made.

The USAR is one of just two funded by the government in East Anglia, designed to respond to major incidents in Norfolk and beyond. It launches on March 19 and includes a number of retained firefighters. Norfolk Fire Service, which oversees the unit, has ruled that full-time USAR technicians will have to resign from their retained contracts.

The Retained Firefighters' Union (RFU) said the decision, which will stop the staff from responding to fire calls during their time off, would take away an experienced crew member from up to eight Norfolk fire stations.

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The union added that the decision came at a time when it was a “struggle” to keep pumps available all year round at retained stations.

Tristan Ashby, RFU Norfolk secretary, said: “This decision is absolutely preposterous. We have been in talks with the brigade for months over the issue, presenting a sound and balanced argument as to why the full-time USAR technicians should be able to carry on in the retained firefighting capacity during their days off.

“It would not affect the availability and viability of the USAR unit. It would allow a transferability of skills from one role to another and it would save the brigade thousands of pounds in training replacements.

“How the brigade can justify its decision is mystifying. The service is willing to lose employees, some with over 20 years' experience.”

Mr Ashby added: “The retained duty system in Norfolk does not have people banging on the door wanting to join, so why lose experienced staff for no good reason? It is a certainty that this decision will have a negative effect on fire cover in Norfolk and therefore people's lives will be at greater risk.”

Dave Worsley, Norfolk's deputy chief fire officer, said: “Our initial view in getting the unit up and running has been to say to staff that, given that the posts are being funded by national money and entail an on-call element, they cannot do their full-time job, be part of an on-call arrangement and also be a retained fire fighter.

“As their role will certainly involve training away from Norfolk and could potentially see them sent out of Norfolk for some considerable time, at this point in time we feel it would be wrong to allow staff to be retained fire fighters.”

He added: “Our service has a very proud track record of releasing staff for retained duties and we are certain this will continue in the future. However, in this instance, we need time to see what the demands on the unit are, as the first obligation is to provide an effective response in the event of a major emergency.

“I would like to reassure people that Norfolk is very well supported by our retained fire fighters and we are confident we will be able to retain existing levels of operational response.”