Suspended firefighters, including one who made hoax 999 calls, have cost Essex Fire more than £820,000


- Credit: Archant

A total of 18 firefighters at Essex fire brigade have been suspended in the past five years – costing between them more than £820,000.

One of the cases involved an allegation that a firefighter made hoax 999 calls.

The figures have been revealed in a report being discussed by Essex Fire Authority at its meeting tomorrow.

Much of the spending is due to an ongoing police investigation into allegations of historic abuse within Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS).

Staff can be suspended pending an internal disciplinary inquiry and are paid while any investigation takes place.

But at the request of the Crown Prosecution Service no internal inquiry work can take place into the sex abuse claims until prosecutors’ work is completed.

As a result three staff suspended in August 2013 have been off work for a total of 663 days each so far.

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Excluding these three people who are still not at work, other staff have been suspended for 1,136 days – more than three years – since 2011.

It is thought these also include someone suspended in relation to the historic abuse claims.

Nine of the disciplinary cases involved alleged abusive behaviour, while one surrounded possible drug use.

The hoax 999 call allegation is understood to have involved a retained firefighter who made a false alarms in an effort to increase their call-out bonus.

The chief fire officer had been suspended in what is thought to be a disagreement over sick-leave. He has been on suspension for 51 days to date.

The total amount spent on suspension by ECFRS is £822,399, mostly on salary but also in back-filling costs.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Adam Eckley said: “The impact of that investigation and the limitations on the service in being able to resolve matters internally is demonstrated by the fact that 83% of ECFRS’ suspension costs in the last five years are related to the police investigation.

“The service hopes these matters will be drawn to a close in the coming months and internal employment matters can then be addressed. To have done so earlier would have hindered the police in their work and jeopardised any prosecutions.

“ECFRS takes any decision to suspend personnel very seriously and suspension is always a last resort.

“The payments are not at additional cost to the council tax payers of Essex since they were budgeted salary costs but nevertheless absence is costly to any organisation and therefore remains a key focus of performance management for the service.”