Council’s plan for high-tech Corby fire service vehicle is a mask for ‘dangerous’ cuts, says Labour

Firefighter George Riley demonstrates the power of the new Cobra system on a concrete slab at Mereway fire station in Northampton in 2012
Firefighter George Riley demonstrates the power of the new Cobra system on a concrete slab at Mereway fire station in Northampton in 2012

Corby politicians have criticised Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service’s plans to introduce a second high-tech Cobra Intervention Vehicle to improve the way it responds to 999 calls in the town.

The vehicle will be based at Corby fire station, replacing one of the existing full-time crews there.

The county council has boasted that the Cobra vehicle includes the latest technology to enable firefighters to tackle a blaze without having to enter the building or the area where the fire is located by using water to cut through brick walls, concrete or steel.

However, Cobra requires fewer firefighters to operate it and Labour says the council intends to reduce staffing levels at Corby fire station to help meet its saving targets.

Labour’s leader on the county council, Cllr John McGhee, who represents Kingswood in Corby, said it effectively amounted to a 50 per cent cut to the fire service in Corby.

He told the cabinet meeting: “Any more reductions to the fire service in Northamptonshire would make it a dangerous place to live.

“Although we appreciate that Corby will be receiving a ‘state-of-the-art’ unit, reductions in personnel won’t be welcomed by local people who I know will be concerned about their safety and protection.”

Corby MP Andy Sawford added: “Corby has had two fire engines and crews for fifty years and now the council are talking about cutting an engine and crew, effectively halving the service.

“Talk of new machinery and robots is spin to try to mask the real effect of cuts that could put lives in danger – not just of the public but also the firefighters themselves.

“It makes no sense to make these big cuts at a time when Corby is growing very fast with new housing and new industry being located here.”

The initiative also came in for criticism from the county’s branch of the Fire Brigades Union at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet this afternoon (Tuesday, October 7).

At the meeting the cabinet agreed the initiative as part of the updated plan for the fire service in the county.

The introduction of the vehicle as an alternative to one of the two traditional fire appliances currently in operation is part of a review of the way the county’s fire and rescue service is equipped to deal with the current volume and type of emergency calls while delivering value for money.

It will be the second Cobra-equipped vehicle in use in the county. The first one was introduced in Daventry in 2010.

Cllr André González de Savage, whose cabinet portfolio includes the fire service, said the Cobra vehicle was vital to maximise the use of resources available.

He added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to take advantage of the latest technology in firefighting techniques to create a fire and rescue service that is well prepared to deal with the challenge facing us today.”

Chief fire officer Martyn Emberson said: “Corby is the only fire station in the county that has two traditional whole-time crews and as the demand is changing, we need to modernise and adapt our working practices to meet that demand.”

A traditional fire appliance requires a crew of at least four firefighters, while the Cobra vehicle can be despatched with two crew members.