Firefighters warn deploying more crews in pick-up trucks puts public at risk

Firefighters have hit out at plans to send more crews to incidents in pick-up trucks equipped with just a single fire extinguisher. Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service has expanded its fleet of rapid response rescue units (RRRUs) from two to 13, which it says will allow it to get to non-fire incidents such as road accidents much more quickly. But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the move will put firefighters and members of the public at risk, and has issued a ‘safety critical notice’ in relation to the policy. Union officials point to the fact that the RRRUs are crewed by just two to three firefighters, as opposed to four on a fire engine, as well as the lack of equipment such as breathing apparatus.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has rejected the FBU’s claims, saying that the RRRUs have operated ‘safely and successfully’ at Sandbach and Holmes Chapel fire stations for the past 13 years. They are now being rolled out to all on-call stations in Cheshire, including Alsager and Nantwich. READ: Woman still not back home two months after fire killed neighbour

The issuing of a safety critical notice means the FBU believes there is a serious breach of health and safety guidelines. The union has also asked for an urgent meeting with Cheshire Combined Fire Authority, as well as a health and safety committee meeting, but both requests have been refused. Andrew Fox-Hewitt, FBU Cheshire brigade secretary, said: “We have seen cuts before but this is beyond farcical.

It is a disastrous plan that will end in damage to the health and safety of firefighters and the public alike. How can firefighters be expected to tackle house fires or a car fire with a single fire extinguisher or without any respiratory protection. “This is a ridiculous plan with little proper assessment or planning and we are appalled that this is even being considered.

The union will use all tools at its disposal to protect the health and safety of its members.” Cheshire Fire Authority made the decision to spend around GBP440,000 on the additional RRRUs following consultation with the public, staff and stakeholders. The RRRUs at Alsager, Audlem, Frodsham, Holmes Chapel, Knutsford, Malpas, Middlewich, Sandbach, Stockton Heath and Tarporley are Toyota Hilux vehicles.

Bollington has a Mercedes Sprinter to enable it to respond to animal rescue incidents and Nantwich has a ‘midi appliance’. Chief fire officer Mark Cashin has insisted that an RRRU would never be the first vehicle sent to a fire, and that the safety of firefighters would always be a top priority. He said: “RRRUs are a tried and tested part of a modern fire and rescue service fleet.

They enable firefighters to safely provide lifesaving trauma care and carry out preparatory work prior to the arrival of traditional fire engines, which may take longer to get to an incident. “They are never sent as the first vehicle to a fire incident. At least one fire engine, with full firefighting equipment and four firefighters, will always be deployed first.

An RRRU might then be used to transport additional firefighters and equipment to a fire incident, if required. “Firefighter safety is my number one priority and I would not allow the RRRUs to be deployed if I had any doubt they placed people at undue risk or compromised our response to incidents. “After 20 months of dialogue, it is disappointing that our trade union colleagues disagree.

They are free to refer the matter to the Health and Safety Executive if they wish.”

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