Union chief warns Norfolk fire service “near breaking point”

Firefighters on the scene of the recycling centre fire in Ketteringham.

Firefighters on the scene of the recycling centre fire in Ketteringham. - Credit: Archant

A union official has warned that in future the fire service may struggle to cope with a repeat of the two major blazes in one day that affected Norfolk on Tuesday.

Peter Greeves, chairman of the Fire Brigade Union's (FBU) Norfolk branch, said depending on the cuts made when Norfolk Fire Service produces its integrated risk management plan, the service may not be able to cope with major incidents such as the fires in Ketteringham and Brandon.

Mr Greeves said: 'Without having looked into the response to Tuesday's incidents, I would have said we were near breaking point.

'With the amount of cuts we have got to make in the next couple of years, I personally don't think we will be able to cope.'

More than 70 firefighters from a number of stations, including Earlham, Carrow, Wymondham, Sprowston, Attleborough and Hingham, were called to the M W White warehouse on Station Lane in Ketteringham at 7.35am on Tuesday to tackle a blaze involving 120 tonnes of recycled paper.

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Hours later, more than 40 firefighters were called to deal with a fire in a storage building at NuSpan in Mundford Road, Brandon which was threatening acetylene gas tanks, creating the potential risk of explosions.

Crews from Brandon, Methwold, Thetford, Watton, Swaffham, East Harling, Downham Market, Littleport, Mildenhall and Soham were called to battle the blaze and a 200m cordon was set up around the building because of the danger to staff if the tanks exploded.

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Investigations into the Brandon fire, which caused the roof to collapse, were halted on Wednesday because the blaze left the building, which was used to store wood, in an unstable condition.

A Breckland Council officer called at the site on Wednesday morning and judged that the building was not a risk to the public due to its location and security controls.

Fire crews were still on the scene of the Ketteringham blaze on Wednesday and were continuing to deal with a large volume of baled paper in one warehouse.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the fire service was treating the incident in the same way as a straw fire due to the high volume of bales of paper involved. But Mr Greeves said the county's fire service was already understaffed to the point where fire engines were attending incidents with four firefighters on board when the ideal number should be five.

He said before the cuts, the fire service would normally send two fire engines to a house fire with 10 firefighters on board.

Eight crew members would deal with the fire while the rest would supervise the outside of the building and keep watch, but Mr Greeves said since the cuts the two outside firefighters were no longer present, which could endanger the safety of the crews inside dealing with the house fire.

The county council is in the middle of a four-year drive to make almost £4m of cuts to the fire service, which will be outlined in the next IRMP.

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