Fire service invests in front line despite the cuts

Fire chiefs in Norfolk today paraded some of the �4.5m of new rescue equipment invested in the service insisting that there was still a commitment to reinforce the frontline despite cuts in public spending.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service is to take delivery of 12 new fire engines over the course of the next two years including 10 �250,000 multi-purpose 4X4 vehicles which can be used off-road and also for incidents such as flooding, forest fires and in extreme winter conditions.

The service has also spent around �1m on new protective fire kit, while their breathing apparatus equipment is to be replaced next spring, while Norwich's new Carrow fire station at Trowse is set to open in the next few weeks.

Investment in the last year has also included 18 sets of hydraulic rescue equipment for cutting trapped motorists out of their vehicles.

The service undertook a review of its operations last year which saw cuts of �1.5m including the loss of 24 jobs in Norwich after the number of fire engines is reduced from five to four. The monitoring of rules governing a maximum 15 minute response time for second crews at some incidents was also scrapped, fuelling fears that public safety could be compromised.

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Yesterday members of the ruling cabinet were able to take a look at the some of the new gear going into service, including a new aerial ladder platform for Great Yarmouth, and heavy rescue vehicles which can deal with all sorts of road accidents. A second vehicle will be deployed at Thetford.

The service has also taken delivery of a flood rescue boat and four smaller rescue boats, which can be deployed across the county.

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Chief fire officer Nigel Williams, said the investment demonstrated the commitment to give the firefighters the latest equipment they needed at a time when funding was tight.

'We are putting a lot of money into the front line for the longer term,' he said. 'I am still keen to invest in and develop the service in the best way I can. Even against the backdrop of the financial challenges, we have got to invest in the service and remain forward looking, instead of just cuts, cuts, cuts.'

Norfolk has impressed civil servants in Whitehall with its commitment to invest in the service as a way of securing match funding from the government - an approach which has paid dividends in securing some of the funds needed.

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for community protection, said: 'We are replacing their breathing apparatus equipment, which is important for when they go into hazardous arenas, and the new vehicles will be 4X4 which will have offroad capabilities.

'Our most important resources are our firefighters and it's incumbent on us to provide them with the best and safest equipment to protect the public. Investment in Norfolk's fire and rescue service is to continue with 12 new fire engines the latest life-saving equipment set for the county.

Money is tight and the fire and rescue budget remains under severe pressure and we are having to make tough choices. But that does not mean we will stop providing critical emergency services, or that we will stop investing in the future of our fire and rescue service.'

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