Retained firefighter shortage adds up to thousands of hours

Burton Latimer Blackbridge Farm fire press conference: '15/10/11
Burton Latimer Blackbridge Farm fire press conference: '15/10/11

A shortage of retained firefighters in the north of the county has left stations so short-staffed they are unable to respond to calls for tens of thousands of hours each year.

Fire bosses say there are 152 retained firefighters at stations in the north of the county – but they need many more.

In this financial year to date the 13 fire stations have not been able to get the required minimum crews of four and attend calls for a combined 17,958 hours.

The situation is a worse problem at some stations than at others.

Although it has 11 firefighters, the retained section at Kettering fire station was unavailable for 45 per cent of the time – 2,962 hours.

In Rushden there are 11 retained firefighters but the retained section was out of operation for 43 per cent of the time – 2,842 hours.

In Wellingborough there are 14 retained firefigthers but the retained section was out of operation for 31 per cent of the time – 2,062 hours.

While those three stations may have all-hour sections to cover them, town stations in Oundle, Desborough and Burton Latimer have to depend on neighbouring stations when out of action.

Community risk manager Kevin Hedges would not call the shortage dangerous but said it was a problem which needed to be resolved.

He said: “We’re calling on people from all walks of life who can come in and help us serve the county.

“The problem is it takes a long time to train people so when just a few people leave it can take a long time to fill the gap.

“Once that gap appears we can have times during the week when there are not enough staff to man a station engine. It means when a call goes out a neighbouring station may be called to the scene – it’s not ideal.”

The fire service is currently halfway through a recruitment process which could see 36 people join, but the service still wants more.

It is deploying a recruitment pod to areas of the county such as Oundle where more people are most needed.

Mr Hedges said: “We need people who are not necessarily physically strong, but are strong mentally. They will be dealing with situations which, at worst, would mean they come up to dead bodies – it is tough, but can be very rewarding.”

Chief fire officer Martyn Emberson teamed up with the Evening Telegraph five years ago to run an appeal for more retained firefighters.

This week he said: “We’re constantly looking for new people.

“While some stations are well manned there are shortages at others which we are keen to concentrate on.

“Its not a good situation when you have stations unavailable.”

Anyone interested in joining the fire service as a retained firefighters can call into their local fire station and ask for details.

Opinion in today’s Evening Telegraph