Fears over changes to fire service remain

An example of one of the smaller fire engines being used elsehwere in the country.
An example of one of the smaller fire engines being used elsehwere in the country.

Wooler parish councillors feel that their village and area is unfairly targeted for cutbacks in public services, with the fire service just the latest.

But at Monday night’s meeting of the parish council, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Alex Bennett said that the proposed changes, which would see Wooler’s retained appliance replaced with a smaller fire engine, would not ‘decimate’ the service, as was claimed.

“The Wooler truck is not available some of the time anyway,” he said, due to the availability of retained firefighters with the smaller engine able to go out with a crew of just three.

“Sixty per cent of the incidents in Wooler and the surrounding area can be dealt with by the smaller truck.

“We are committed to the fire service in Wooler and we are committed to recruiting.

“We can still save lives and we can still make a difference.”

CFO Bennett underlined that the village’s fire station now has a full complement of 10 firefighers, after three were recruited and successfully completed initial training this year following five being brought in during 2014.

Coun Brian Patterson asked about how long it would take for Wooler to get a new appliance, bearing in mind the current engine is nine years old.

CFO Bennett explained that the changes hinged upon the county council approving the proposals following the consultation period, but that if that was the case, Wooler would end up with a newer appliance.

Coun Patterson also asked about why £7million was still being spent on Alnwick’s new fire station, part of a council ‘super-depot,’ and was told that it was capital expenditure as opposed to revenue, ie day-to-day running expenditure, and it was the latter which needed to be reduced.

CFO Bennett also pointed out that money was invested in the fire station in Wooler a number of years ago when it was needed and currently it’s needed in Alnwick.

Coun Mark Mather, who used to be a retained firefighter, asked a series of questions about practical issues on the smaller trucks, such as ladder length, water capacity and equipment on board.

He also asked why north Northumberland was ‘taking a hammering’, with CFO Bennett responding: “It’s about the global picture and about being able to cover the whole area.”

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