FULL merger between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk’s fire services put on hold

Fred Brown

Fred Brown - Credit: Archant

A FULL merger between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk’s fire services has been put on hold after possible savings were not as high as previously thought.

Fred Brown, chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority, announced the change in plan on Friday as he and deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland laid out their plans for the next year ahead of setting the service’s budget.

Mr Brown said that the fire service were still pressing ahead with a full business case but as savings on the Suffolk side, as a combined service, that costs of parts of the service were not as easy to identify as in Cambridgeshire.

Although, he said, there was still room for savings to be made through both services through shared training, IT and payroll departments.

Mr Brown added: “A full merger could still happen and will probably take place when a clear line cannot be drawn between the two services.”

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The fire chiefs announced that the at risk rescue vehicle at Huntingdon, which attends road traffic accidents, will remain at its base, at least during the day.

The change is part of a service redesign which sees Huntingdon and St Neots firefighters receive two state-of-the-art “rescue pumps” - fire engines with cutting equipment on board - with four more of the fire engines deployed in Ely, Wisbech, Cambridge and Peterborough. The first three will be in service before May.

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The “rescue pumps” will reduce the time that cutting equipment will arrive at the road incidents and help patients in the critical “golden hour” - the time which injured people receive treatment to ensure greater survival chances.

Because the new fire engines, which are being paid for by reserves, have the capability to carry cutting equipment, the rescue vehicle, 70 per cent of calls of which it attends are to road traffic collisions, will have its two crew members moved to a permanent Operational Risk and Response Team (ORRT) - a team of firefighters who will move around the county and provide cover where needed as up to eight stations across the county are left without crews each day.

However the crew will remain based at Huntingdon during the day, maintaining rescue support, with the vehicle left at the station during the night for use if required.

Retained firefighters will also see a shake up and will be required to sign up their availability which will enable the service to see where and when more are required, and enable the ORRT to provide cover when needed.

Mr Strickland said: “The rescue vehicle at Huntingdon has been needed 96 times in the last year during the night so it will remain at the station if it is needed but it will be more for special incidents like water rescues.

“The ORRT will be used for prolonged incidents to add support which means other crews are available to attend other incidents if required. The team will provide cover when retained crew numbers are low, so possibly we could send them to an area to schools or in the community with a pager to attend a station if they are called out.”

Mr Strickland said the changes being made will safeguard the future of frontline services. He added: “If you look back to two years ago we are facing massive reductions in budget. What we are talking about now is a better level of service and using the extra money [from the precept] to improve the service.”

Mr Brown said: “It’s about bringing the service into the 21st Century. In 10 years’ time, Cambridgeshire will be the safest place for people to crash their cars.

“The changes give us the building blocks for growth. If we look at Huntingdonshire, we will have the enterprise zone which will be huge when it is completed and the rest of Huntingdonshire will follow with more growth.

“It is going to put a strain on every service an the fire service will be there as well. We are making sure that our service is sustainable and consistent, while on a different basis due to the growth.”

The pair also paid thanked the unions for their help in changing the staff rota system that was introduced a month ago, which is estimated to save more than £100,000 on top of the £900,000 a year already expected.

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