Berkshire fire chief hits back at shocking national fire report

Berkshire fire chief hits back at shocking national fire report

Francis Batt

Berkshire fire chief hits back at shocking national fire report
Iain Cox, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, pictured in 2009 at launch of authority's new Incident Command vehicle

Shock calls by a leading government advisor to cut the number of permanant, full-time firefighters have been greeted with anger and disbelief.

Retired government chief fire and rescue advisor Sir Ken Knight said in a review published today that increasing the number of retained firefighters, who are called out on fires from their homes and businesses, would save £130m in the UK.

He would like to see the number of retained firefighters not permanantly based in fire stations, increased from 10 to 40 per cent, for the service.

He said fire deaths in homes had dropped revently from 800 a year to 180 with fires down by 40 per cent and questioned why the number of firefighters had stayed the same. He insists he wants to adjust the service to current needs, not cut it.

But already Berkshire's chief fire officer Iain Cox has hit back.

He said: "Sir Ken's call for more retained firefighters may work in the Met area but I look after Berkshire, where we know that recruiting retained firefighters is next to impossible.

"The second point is that although emergency calls may be down 40 per cent, if you are in a village and your house catches fire you won't care if it is the only fire that year. Your fire is the one that matters and you will want the firefighters there at once and in reasonable numbers."

He sited the inferno in historic Park Street, Windsor as an example of how a full service has to be kept at full strength.

Chief Fire Officer Cox pointed out that Berkshire is already the third most cost efficient service in the country. It is putting the Windsor station in St Mark's Road up for sale to finance improvements to the service at Wokingham.

Firefighter Michael Rowley, Windsor's representative on the Fire Brigade's Union, said: "In view of the emergency resources needed to stop the escalation of the recent fire in Park Street fire Sir Ken's assertions are unbelievable."

Only the quick reponse of full-time firefighters across the area saved the whole terrace of historic Georgian buildings in Park Street being destroyed.

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