Joint police and fire service response vehicles being trialled in Northamptonshire were praised by a Home Office minister on a visit to the county today, despite ongoing fears the trial will lead to cutbacks.
The two 4x4 Rural Intervention Vehicles have been in use for a year now and are manned by both a police and a fire officer who can attend incidents such as car crashes, missing person hunts and fires in the same vehicle.
The trial was launched in October last year as part of a series of measures to join up police and fire services in Northamptonshire, which began when the county received around £1 million in funding to become a test bed for collaboration between the emergency services in January 2014.
Today, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said lessons could be learned nationally from the project in Northamptonshire during a visit to Wootton Hall.
He said: “In Northamptonshire we have seen some good collaborative working, but it’s about looking at how we can then take that to the next step.
“We’ve been running a consultation, which we will be replying to in the new year, about the need to look at the statutory obligations to co-operate and collaborate between the blue light services.
“It’s about learning from the practical things that we’ve seen here, some of the joint working and how we can apply this nationally.”
Critics of the scheme in Northamptonshire however include the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has said that joined-up working gives too much power to the police and crime commissioner, is driven by a need for cutbacks and will affect firefighters’ standing in the community by attending alongside an enforcement agency.
He has also expressed fear about he safety of fire officers attending police incidents.
But Mr Brokenshire claimed the measures were not just about making savings.
He said: “It is about finding ways we can be making efficiencies in the back office, but it is also about keeping that expertise. It is about recognising that to respond effectively you need good collaboration, and I think Northamptonshire is doing that.”
Watch manager for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue, Justin Abbott, has been working in one of the two rural intervention vehicles for the past year.
He said the 4x4s - equipped with a first aid kit, equipment to stabilise cars that have rolled over and fire extinguishers among other things - can attend incidents quicker than a fire engine, are better at responding to rural areas and are particularly effective at cutting through the A14 at busy times.
Supt Chris Hillery, of Northamptonshire Police, believes that overall, the vehicles have been a success.
“I have seen these vehicles respond to missing persons, to road traffic collisions, and they have had positive benefits.
“I have seen missing people found quicker, I see and have seen collisions given the right response and resources as quickly as possible.”
But he said he understood some of the concerns of the FBU, particularly the fear that greater joined up working will lead to redundancies in the fire service. A joint response vehicle carries just one fire officer, while fire engines are manned by at least five firefighters.
Supt Hillery added: “The core responsibility of the police and fire service is to protect life and property.
“If that means conjoining our forces to add value to the people of Northamptonshire, that is the right thing to do.
“Now that won’t necessarily result in job losses.
“Our focus needs to be on the frontline delivery. If that means it doesn’t need as many superintendents and managers that is a good thing.
“My view is if I’m in a road traffic accident, I don’t care who is nursing my wounds, if I am in a fire I don’t care who is putting it out, I just want the best outcome.”