Charmaine Morgan’s column: ‘Fire officers’ ability to protect us is being undermined’

Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan
Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan
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It is hard to imagine the horrors and personal risks that our Fire and Rescue Service crews face on a daily basis.

Plans for their service are currently the subject of an Integrated Rescue Management Plan IRMP 2016/17, which is now open to comment during the public consultation ending on May 16. Government austerity measures have left our county council struggling financially. LCC have further cut our Fire and Rescue Service budget. Our officers’ ability to protect us is being undermined.

The Fire and Rescue Service role is increasingly focussed on ‘rescue’ as domestic fire numbers have reduced but risk of arson attacks, road traffic incidents and flooding incidents remain high. The Rescue Service Unit RSU currently based at Grantham is earmarked to go. It carries vital equipment. With it our F&R Service rescues people trapped in very high places such as church steeples, or underground, or buried by a collapsed building. Major fires can be tackled with officers using the hoses and 20 breathing apparatus it carries. The pollution of our watertable from chemical leaks, or, contaminated water run off water (after a large fire has been tackled) can be averted. The RSU provides rescue support in severe weather, carrying equipment to cope with inland floods, ice and mud. It is used in rail incidents and HGV high speed collisions, up to and exceeding, 120mph. Heavy lifting gear, pneumatic stabilising arms and specialised large clamps and jacks enable the recovery of people trapped, not only inside, but also beneath a train, an HGV, coach or bus. A cyclist was recently rescued using the RSU on Bridge End Road in Grantham. Severely obese people may be moved with specialist bariatric handling gear. The Grantham RSU also enables fast localised response to large chemical, biological, radiological incidents and nuclear related incidents whether at our hospital, leisure centre, college, schools, factory, on a railway or roads including the A1. Farmers and stable owners rely on the heavy hoists it carries for large animal rescue.

Nearly all services provided by our Fire and Rescue crews are time critical. Delays put members of the public, our fire crews, our water supplies or large animals at increased risk or may prolong suffering. Yet further delays will occur in the Grantham area if the RSU cuts go ahead.

This important unit is one of only two in the county. it represents a significant initial financial investment. It carries vital equipment and has specially trained crews. If the RSU at Granthan is lost, only one unit will be left to support Lincolnshire which at more than 5400km2 is the fourth largest county in the country. Contrary to some comments in the consultation document, other fire engines are unable to carry more equipment and could not handle either the major incidents supported by the RSU or the wide range of incidents supported by it.

A key factor in the IRMP is the provision of contingency cover. Relying on one RSU undermines contingency plans and our ability to support major national incidents. It cannot be possible for these changes to occur and to maintain the level of service LCC is committed to deliver. There are already parts of our county where response times in an emergency are at least 20 minutes.

The new plan includes some delays in response to Lincoln South emergencies and significant changes to the working shift pattern of fire officers at Lincoln South too. The IRMP was drafted before consultation with officers so the impact on staff numbers and viability cannot be determined. The final decision is down to the LCC Cabinet.

Online comments may be submitted on www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/lfr

Forms may be requested by calling 01522 552222. Comments may also be sent to Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, FREEPOST RT JR - RCSU-GETK, South Park Avenue, Lincoln LN5 8EL. The deadline is May 16.