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'Incredibly alarming' - cuts and climate change blamed for fire response delays

PUBLISHED: 14:43 19 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:47 19 January 2020

The fire being tackled
Picture: Liz Coates

The fire being tackled Picture: Liz Coates

Archant

Firefighters in Norfolk are taking almost one minute longer, on average, to attend the most serious fires than they were five years ago, new figures reveal.

Firefighters were called to the scene of a blaze at a former airfield in Matlaske, north Norfolk. Picture: WWW.PIERROTPHOTO.CO.UKFirefighters were called to the scene of a blaze at a former airfield in Matlaske, north Norfolk. Picture: WWW.PIERROTPHOTO.CO.UK

The figures have been described as "alarming" by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) who have highlighted how, "a matter of seconds can be the difference between life and death."

There has been an increase nationally, with climate change and cut backs cited amongst the reasons, and Norfolk's response times remained lower than many other rural counties.

The average response time to 'primary' fires in Norfolk is 10 minutes and 22 seconds, according to Home Office data.

This represents an increase of 28 seconds since 2017/18 and of 48 seconds since 2013/14.

Response times to dwelling fires have increased by seven seconds over the last decade but have remained faster than in other predominantly rural areas.

The numbers show the time it took for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) to reach three types of 'primary' fires showed an increase - other buildings by 25 seconds, road vehicles by 27 seconds and other outdoor fires by one minute and one second - but dwelling fires decreased by 17 seconds compared with 2017/18.

Scott Norman, Assistant Chief Fire Officer at NFRS, said the longer response times were "largely down to an unprecedented spike in rural fires during the summer of 2018 when we experienced prolonged tinder-dry conditions and increased demand."

"Despite this increase, our response time remained lower than the average for predominantly rural counties across England," he added.

But the FBU has blamed the long-term increase on cutbacks to the service.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it's obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.

"The slowing of response times has been gradual, but the impact over a number of years is staggering. The government urgently needs to invest in our services and, crucially, we need national standards to set a required response time. Every second counts.

National Fire Chiefs Council chairman Roy Wilsher said: "We are experiencing changing risk due to climate change. In the UK there is a significant rise in wildfires during the summer, but we are also seeing a rise in non-fire incidents such as flooding."

Firefighters were 'absolutely fantastic'

Liz Rayman, 48, had to move out of her house for five months after it was destroyed in a fire ten years ago.

An extractor fan fault caused the blaze which swept quickly from the kitchen through the house.

The Ormesby woman said while she understands there have been cutbacks in the service, the firefighters who attended her house that day, in September 2010, were "absolutely fantastic".

In the aftermath of the fire she contacted her house insurers and was told the company would send somebody over the following morning.

But when the fire manager heard that, Ms Rayman said, he took the phone and told them, 'This is a single mother with two children, you have to come out now'.

"He insisted they had to come out now, and they did."

Ms Rayman and her family had to move out of the house for five months.

"Basically everything was lost," she said.

Scott Norman, Assistant Chief Fire Officer at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.Scott Norman, Assistant Chief Fire Officer at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. Photo: ARCHANT.Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. Photo: ARCHANT.

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