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Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service


 

This speech was given during an adjournment debate on Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, on 4 March 2008

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I will make a very brief contribution. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) on securing the debate.

He highlights an important issue, of which the public are not widely aware. The general public do not necessarily realise, although you may be aware, Mr. Pope—as is anyone working as a retained firefighter and their employers—that many of the people who put their lives at risk and help to protect the public are teachers, business people, factory workers, hospital porters, bricklayers and agricultural workers. They protect the public and are firefighters on the side and they do so on an exceptionally good value-for-money basis.

It costs 1 million to crew-up a fire engine if it is serviced by full-time personnel and only about 70,000 if it is crewed by retained firemen. Does the Minister think that that ratio is sufficiently startling? I think that it is and that it is exceptional value for money. It might be worth the Government going the extra mile—or raising their game—to protect the retained fire service.

The figures that my hon. Friend quoted demonstrated that it is not unusual to have 10 fire engines unavailable in Norfolk at any one time because the available crew is absent for understandable reasons, such as pressures on employers who are unable to let people go because of the nature of modern employment and how it has changed. That suggests that the system is beginning to break down. If it were just one or two unavailable engines, it would be fair enough, but 10 fire engines are unavailable on a regular basis, which suggests that the Government need to do more in terms of recruitment, advertising, and campaigns to encourage participation in the retained fire service. Otherwise, the Minister will have to bite the bullet and pursue the alternative, which would cost him and his colleagues a great deal more money.

My hon. Friend mentioned regionalisation, to which there are advantages and disadvantages. I have heard people talking about that issue from both perspectives. Like my hon. Friend, I want reassurances from the Minister that if regionalisation goes ahead and the control centre in Hethersett is closed, the quality of the service will be maintained.

Finally, the subject of water rescue deserves a mention. Most people find it extraordinary that there is not a statutory duty on the fire services to rescue people. We all know about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at sea, but the fact that there is no statutory duty in relation to our inland waterways suggests—I know that this is not the case—that the Government think that protecting the public if they fall in a river is not sufficiently important to be backed by the force of the law.

That is not necessarily the Government’s position and I invite the Minister to respond to that point and say what their position is. Surely, if it is worth protecting the public, it is worth doing so whether they are on land or in a river.

We should not end up in the ludicrous situation of the Health and Safety Executive threatening to prosecute fire services because a retained firefighter standing on the edge of a river bank decides to jump into a river and save somebody rather than consult the rule book first.