Concerns raised over shortage of firefighters in Wooler

Fears have been raised about fire cover in Wooler due to staffing shortages.

Saturday, 8th February 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 8th February 2020, 8:00 am
Wooler Community Fire Station.
Wooler Community Fire Station.

Wooler Parish Council chairman Mark Mather, a former firefighter, claimed there were occasions when the town’s fire engine has been unable to turn out because it did not have enough crew.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) has acknowledged staffing issues at Wooler but claims it has taken action to address the situation with the introduction of a phased response model.

Mark McCarty, deputy chief fire officer, explained: “We will always endeavour to provide full availability for the stations where possible and phased response has been introduced in recent years as a fall back model to improve cover at some stations. It allows us to respond to most incidents while also protecting our firefighters.

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“This model has led to an extra 2,769 hours of cover in Wooler since 2017, which before the introduction of phased response, would not have been possible.

“Phased response also improves staff morale and retention as it increases the opportunities where on call firefighters can be used and decreases frustrations for those who make great efforts to provide cover.”

However, Coun Mather, said: "That is not a frontline fire engine. It can't go to a house fire or an RTC (road traffic collision) because it doesn't have a full staffing of four.

"To turn the Wooler pump out it has to have a minimum of four, hopefully six, or they can't go to those jobs.

"If there's a wheelie bin on fire and it's deemed safe by the call handler then they may then make a decision to turn Wooler out with a crew of three.

"So, it looks a lot better statistically to have 2,769 extra hours covered but when it comes to life-saving firefighting that is a huge concern of mine because we are still going to have to wait for Belford, Berwick or Alnwick."

Parish councillors were also concerned to learn that six people from Wooler had started a recent recruitment process but none made it through. They felt that NFRS may need to review its recruitment process and offered to help.

“We are desperate,” said Coun Mather. “This is no dig at the service they are providing – there just aren’t enough of them. There have been a number of incidents in Wooler where they have not turned out and people need to know.”

Mr McCarthy responded: “Recruitment of on call firefighters is an ongoing issue for all fire services due to the restrictions and availability of suitable people in often rural and sparsely populated areas.

“We've invested a great deal of time and resource in recent years to drive recruitment, particularly in Wooler where we've been working closely with the community and local businesses to raise awareness of the opportunities.

“This recruitment remains a priority and we want to keep working with Wooler Parish Council and the local community to raise the profile of our work and enhance our support to residents.”