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Long hours and little rest as Norfolk Fire and Rescue staff battle the elements

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:24 30 July 2018

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

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During a period of unrelenting heat across the county our fire service has been working round the clock to battle an increase in calls-outs. Reporter Rebecca Murphy spent time with Norfolk Fire and Rescue to find out how its staff have coped with the demand.

Fire crews tackle a small fire in undergrowth at Garboldisham. Picture: Rebecca MurphyFire crews tackle a small fire in undergrowth at Garboldisham. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

Robert Fuller is a crew manager at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service’s control room.

He and his colleagues have been inundated with emergency calls over the past few weeks as wildfires take hold across the county.

The pressure ramps up at around 2pm daily when the heat is at its peak and the tinderbox conditions cause a small fire - whether started deliberately or accidentally – to take hold quickly.

Fire crews putting out a fire in a caravan which had caught alight following a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca MurphyFire crews putting out a fire in a caravan which had caught alight following a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

Fire crews tackle a small fire in undergrowth at Garboldisham. Picture: Rebecca MurphyFire crews tackle a small fire in undergrowth at Garboldisham. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

Relentless calls come in one after another but the control staff are the picture of calmness as they patiently try to get the location and severity of the fire from a sometimes upset and panicked caller.

Lines need to be cleared quickly to answer the waiting calls and some fires are reported up to 20 times by different people.

Paul Seaman, group manager Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: Ian BurtPaul Seaman, group manager Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: Ian Burt

Buzzers are pressed to abruptly end staff breaks when the calls come in thick and fast and food and drink are brought to staff to help keep them going through the long hours.

Mr Fuller is also a retained firefighter at Loddon.

Over a recent eight-day period he believes he has worked more than 100 hours at both control and as a firefighter – such has been the demand.

“I stayed on late Wednesday night because control was busy,” said the 28-year-old. “I got home at 7.30pm, booked on, and got alerted at 9pm. I was out until 3am this morning [Thursday] and got back home at 3.30am and I was here this morning at 9am.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. PHOTO: Rebecca MurphyNorfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. PHOTO: Rebecca Murphy

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service attended 163 incidents last weekend.         Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceNorfolk Fire and Rescue Service attended 163 incidents last weekend. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

“It has been extremely busy all round for every retained station and it has been like that for the past couple of weeks now.”

He added: “At Loddon we have been called out to Dereham, Horsford and Acle. We have been half way around the county. People have been out all the time and some have not been at work. I imagine most retained firefighters have had little time at home.”

Paul Seaman, group manager with NFSR, said fire crews have been working in some of the hottest and most arduous conditions experienced in years. He said their commitment to protecting the public is “unrivalled” and the service is “extremely proud of its work force”.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service tackling fires.  Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceNorfolk Fire and Rescue Service tackling fires. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service’s (NFRS) 42 stations, 39 of those have retained firefighters.

Many of these men and women are working their normal day job and are then, like Mr Fuller, spending hours battling a field fire into the early hours before heading back into work on little sleep.

Some have temporarily been released by their employers to focus solely on helping to tackle the unrelenting fires and are working both day and night shifts.

Thetford Fire Station has whole-time, retained crews and three firefighters who work whole-time and retained.

Steve Collins, retained watch manager and whole-time firefighter, said the retained crews have dealt with more than 71 call-outs this month - the average is usually between 30 and 35.

He said there is a guilt factor which comes with the job as men and women are spending so much time away from their families.

“The impact with something like this is that people are missing days at work and are sacrificing days with their family,” he said. “The shouts are lasting anywhere between one and five hours.

“As soon as they get back they are then sent out on another shout.

“From a whole-time point of view we are here more than normal. We were late this Tuesday. We have had two call outs this week when we have finished late.”

Derek Sim, station manager at Thetford, said the whole family is affected when someone is a firefighter.

He said: “It is not just the firefighter who joins the service, it is the whole family. It’s asking family members, ‘can you look after my kids as my buzzer has gone off?’. Family parties, barbecues or events you have planned for and then the buzzer goes off. You need to have very tolerant partners and employers.”

Richard Dromey, NFRS area manager, has praised everyone associated with the fire service, from the mechanics to those who clean the uniform. He has also expressed his gratitude to employers who have released their retained firefighter staff more often and for longer periods of time.

He said: “It is a team effort and we operate as a team. On behalf of the fire service I want to say a big thank you to the people who employ on-call firefighters.

“We cannot express enough of our gratitude and we could not do this without them.”

Tomorrow, spend a day with Norwich fire crews on one of the hottest days of the year.

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