Fire crews of three are putting lives at risk, says firefighters' union

Fire engines are being sent to incidents in Northumberland with a crew of just three firefighters, which is critically below the number needed to tackle a life-threatening fire, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has revealed.

The trial scheme, known as ‘phased response’, currently underway at Wooler and Seahouses fire stations, means fire engines would only have enough firefighters to respond to small contained ‘low risk' fires.

This is a dangerous policy, say the FBU, as fires can develop rapidly to the point where three firefighters alone can’t tackle them – a minimum crew of five is needed before firefighters can even contemplate undertaking life-saving interventions. 

Guy Tiffin, secretary of the FBU in Northumberland, said: “Life is put at risk when crews are forced to wait for back up.  In an emergency, every second counts. Whether by accident or design, this trial actively lengthens the amount of time it takes for firefighters to rescue people. It is completely unacceptable.

“From the public’s perspective, they will still see a fully sized fire engine turn up to an incident and expect it to perform in the same way as a properly staffed fire engine. But it won’t be able to help them. The public are being served up a dangerously reduced and hamstrung fire service which will only become apparent to them when there is a serious emergency.

“Whatever the situation, firefighters feel a need to act – firefighters serve their communities with pride. It fills me with dread that these consummate professionals will be torn between the intolerable dilemma of waiting for backup in order to follow safe, professional firefighting procedures or the moral pressure to do everything to save lives.”

Although the ‘phased response’ crew will only be called out to attend smaller fires where there is no risk to life, the union says it is common for fires to be misreported or to develop into bigger incidents where people are at risk of injury. 

The FBU has recently released a short film demonstrating the dilemma firefighters face when crew sizes are cut. You can watch the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NBiXjbdbxg&t=4s

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