October 24 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Radical plans to be trialled in Uttlesford could see PCSOs take on a dual role as firefighters while on the beat.
Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) is conducting a review of its retained firefighter system in a bid to make it work more effectively.
The brigade is facing a shortfall of retained firefighters to cover daytime shifts as increasing numbers of people work away from smaller towns and villages.
It is an issue in Saffron Walden, according to station officer Paul Curtis, who welcomed the concept of Police Community Support Officers doubling up.
“If they were appropriately qualified I would gladly accept them – the more bums on seats the better,” he told the Reporter.
“We don’t have a problem with a shortage of retained firefighters, as such, but we could do with more people able to cover the daytime.
“When I first started 25 years ago the majority of people were employed locally, whereas now I only have about four who work for themselves as mechanics.
“We have enough people working shift patterns for their full-time jobs that they can cover the different times of the day but we could always use more.”
Retained firefighters work on an on-call basis, and must be able to get to their station within five minutes of being paged, though this is set to increase to seven minutes in some areas.
In a report to the Essex Fire Authority, discussed this week, the service has set out a number of recommendations, including sharing personnel with other authorities such as traffic wardens and social services staff.
A pilot scheme is already being organised with Essex police to re-train PCSOs as firefighters so they could bolster retained crews while on the beat.
The project, to be trialled in Braintree and Uttlesford districts, will be voluntary and PCSOs, frontline civilian police staff, will not be forced to take part.
It is unclear yet which stations will be earmarked for the trial.
All 12 fire stations in the area are retained except Great Dunmow, which has a mixed crewing system of retained and full-time firefighters.
An ECFRS spokesman said the project was in its very early stages, but the brigade was excited about taking the scheme forward and seeing how it might work in practice.
Uttlesford District Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for community safety, Councillor Alastair Walters, thought the idea was “something worth trying”.
He said: “In years gone by it was quite common for a son to follow his father into the fire service and for it to be a tremendous source of pride within the community. Things have changed with the times and a lot of that is gone - plus people often work farther away from their home town or village.
“I think it’s a very good idea and I look forward to hearing more.”
• To become a retained firefighter, call 01376 576121 or go along to your local fire station’s training night. Saffron Walden’s is every Thursday from 7-9pm.