Fire crews called to fewer blazes and more call-outs to help other 999 services

Firefighters tackle a blaze at flats off Princes Street in Norwich.

Firefighters tackle a blaze at flats off Princes Street in Norwich. - Credit: Simon Parkin

Firefighters in Norfolk have been called to deal with a record number of non-fire related incidents amid increasing pressures on emergency services, new figures have revealed.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue attended 3,218 incidents that didn’t involve a blaze in the year up to September 2021, an 18pc increase on the previous year.

Home Office data shows fighting fires made up just a quarter of call-outs while there was a 28pc increase - to 1,440 - of 'collaborating incidents' where firefighters assisted other emergency services or agencies.

It comes amid mounting pressure on the region's struggling ambulance service that has seen firefighters called upon to respond to life-saving 999 calls.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service carried out a training exercise at Bungay Staithe on September 21.

Fire crews were called to 7,418 incidents of which just 1,809 were fires. - Credit: Andrew Atterwill

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust has asked for fire crews to "co-respond" to any cardiac arrest emergency calls, so when calls come in both ambulance and fire crews head to the scene if available.

Firefighters that arrive first will give treatment to the patients.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service said it endeavoured to help other blue light services but its priority remained saving lives and giving cardiac treatment was not mandatory for crews.

Richard Dromey, NFRS

Assistant chief fire officer Richard Dromey. - Credit: Archant

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Assistant chief fire officer Richard Dromey said: “Ultimately we are trying to make Norfolk safer and we will do anything we can to protect the community. So if we are requested to assist other agencies we will always try to if we can.

“But obviously we have our legislative core work as a fire and rescue service to respond and do protection and prevention work. That is always our priority.”

The Fire Brigades Union said the service was being asked to take on additional roles supporting other services despite “facing staffing issues of its own”.

Regional officer Jamie Newell said: “There have been times when we've had 20 appliances out of action and yet we are being asked to paper over the cracks of the struggling ambulance service.”

Fire crews attended a total of 7,418 incidents in the 12 months up to September, though 2,391 turned out to be false alarms.

Scenes at St Mary's Church in Beachamwell as fire crews tackled the fire.

Scenes at St Mary's Church in Beachamwell as fire crews tackled the fire. - Credit: Sarah Hussain

The number of 'collaborating incidents', which can range from helping to gain access to premises to dealing with those at risk of suicide, has risen sharply over the past five years from just 290 in 2015/16.

The increase coincided with 'duty to collaborate' legislation, whereby each emergency service “must keep under consideration... entering into a collaboration agreement with one or more other relevant emergency services”.

Mr Dromey said the success in reducing fires in the county had allowed the service to refocus prevention work while firefighters had received extra training for a wider range of tasks, a process accelerated during the pandemic.  

“Obviously we were doing a lot more support of the health service throughout Covid and we provided extra training for that and we had crew members seconded to drive ambulances,” he said.

While firefighters are increasingly being called on to assist other services other non-fire call outs have reduced. 

The figures show crews were called to 538 road traffic collisions in the latest 12 months, compared with more than 1,700 a decade ago.

They also dealt with 417 flooding incidents, the highest in a decade and almost double the previous year, after the county saw severe floods in December and January due to heavy rainfall and storm events.

Recruitment and growing villages present response times challenge

The data shows Norfolk crews took an average 10 minutes and 17 seconds to reach 'primary' fires - the most serious - and 10 minutes 29 seconds to 'secondary' fires - which don't involve people or property. This is nearly two minutes slower than the national average and more than a minute slower than a decade ago.

Firefighters tackle a house fire at a home in Mousehold Lane in Norwich. Picture Dan Grimmer.

Firefighters tackle a house fire at a home in Mousehold Lane in Norwich. Picture Dan Grimmer. - Credit: Archant

Mr Dromey said while response times had improved in the last year there was still an issue with day-time cover for on-call stations manned by part-time crews. 

It was recently revealed parts of Norfolk are covered by their local on-call fire engine for as little as a third of the time as the service struggles to recruit enough firefighters.

“We do have issues in the daytime but we are still performing to a really high standard. But if you take the geographical size of Norfolk that is always going to be a problem and as more and more houses are built further away around villages obviously travel times will be longer to get to more remote places,” said Mr Dromey. 

“I can reassure people we are always working to make sure we are as efficient as we can be and we are looking at ways of improving all the time.”

The Wymondham Wynterfest 2016.Pete Green the Town Crier.PHOTO: Nick Butcher

The Wymondham Wynterfest 2016. Pete Green the former Town Crier. - Credit: Archant

Seven deaths in Norfolk’s 400 house fires last year

Fire crews were called to the lowest number of house fires in more than a decade despite the pandemic meaning people spent more time at home.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue attended 1,809 fires in the year up to September 2021, a 16pc decrease on the previous year.

Firefighters tackled 402 blazes that broke out in residential dwellings, down from 467 in the last pre-Covid year 2018/19 and the lowest in the last 12 years. 

However, despite fewer fires, out of eight fire-related fatalities seven were people who died in domestic blazes.

Among them was much-loved Wymondham town crier and councillor Peter Travis, also known as Pete Green, who died in an accidental blaze at his home on Damgate Street in June 2021.

House in Old Street at Newton Flotman where fatal fire occurred and Anne Peterson (inset). 

House in Old Street at Newton Flotman where fatal fire occurred and Anne Peterson (inset). - Credit: Denise Bradley

A fire investigation report said there was good evidence the fire was caused by a portable electric heater in the lounge.

Retired pharmacist Anne Peterson, 79, died when fire engulfed her detached home in Newton Flotman

Farms, public toilets, homes and cars among arson attacks

Firefighters tackled 613 deliberately-started blazes in Norfolk last year. 

Public toilets, a car repair business and farm buildings were among the properties torched in arson attacks, while fire service investigations found dozens of home and vehicle fires were also deliberate.

The Home Office data shows arson was the cause of a third of the 1,809 fires dealt with by Norfolk Fire and Rescue in the year up to September 2021.

However the number of deliberate fires has fallen 17pc in the last two years, most likely because of the periods of Covid lockdown.

It accelerates a general downward trend in arson, with less than half the number of a decade ago when there were 1,349 in 2011/12.

A farm arson in Boughton.

A farm arson in Boughton. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

There were 37 deliberately started fires at homes, 78 in other buildings and 41 involving cars and road vehicles.

Crews were also called to 404 deliberately started 'secondary' fires.