SPECIAL REPORT - Fire service in Harrogate to be reviewed

Fire Service.Generic Fire engine and Fire service officers for Scarborough.Picture Richard Ponter 132217c
Fire Service.Generic Fire engine and Fire service officers for Scarborough.Picture Richard Ponter 132217c
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Emergency fire service cover across the whole of the Harrogate district is to be reviewed as the authority in charge looks to balance its books and change the way it operates.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) is to assess the number and location of its fire engines and stations, as well as how they are staffed.

It comes as the authority reveals it has seen a huge drop in the number of calls it receives, by more than 30 per cent in the last 10 years.

As a result, it says, it needs to look again at the way it operates to see if it is serving the county - and the taxpayer - the best way it can.

“We need to find some savings from the front line now,” said Owen Hayward, head of risk management at NYFRS.

“It makes more sense, rather than to do that in a piecemeal way, to look at the whole service.

“We need a lot of resources, but do we need them all of the time, in the locations they are now?

“Saving lives is our number one priority. But this is a chance for us to see if we can change.”

The authority is to assess the locations of its fire stations across the county, including in Harrogate, Knaresborough, Ripon, Masham, Summerbridge, Tadcaster and Sherburn.

It is also to consider the number and location of its fire engines here, how quickly they respond to incidents, and how they are staffed.

Smaller vehicles might be considered, as could having less fire engines on stand-by for emergencies.

The service could consider using more part time or retained firefighters, or recruiting volunteers for help during floods.

Part of the reasoning behind the full review is that the kind of calls firefighters are called to has changed considerably.

One big issue is false alarms in Harrogate - which account for 58 per cent of the emergency call outs for firefighters in the town.

Mr Hayward says the authority is looking at ways to tackle this issue, and may even consider fines for companies where firefighters are repeatedly called out to automatic alarms.

And there has been a 32 per cent reduction in the number of calls compared to a decade ago, with more calls to weather related incidents like flooding.

“We’ve spent the last 15 years doing intensive community and prevention work, fitting smoke alarms, raising awareness,” said Mr Hayward.

“And the risk factors have changed - people smoke less, they use less chip pans, there are better building designs.

“We have less fires. And we get called more to weather events like flooding.

“We have to try and make sure all our resources are in the right place. They might not be now.”

Information from the last five years will be considered in the review, which will also look at future housing developments and changes in demographics.

The fire service is to hold public meetings in Harrogate next week to ask how it carries out the review - and what factors members of the public think should be taken into account.

“How to we balance it?,” said Mr Hayward. “Should we put equal resources across the county, or in higher risk areas?

“Some areas wont have any changes, others will see big changes. Let’s speak to people first. There may be a different way of doing things.

“The absolute focus is what services we deliver to the community. And we are spending a considerable amount of time making sure we get this right.”

THE CONSULTATION

Public meetings are to be held in Harrogate next Friday, April 25, to gather opinion on how the consultation should be carried out and what should be considered.

The authority will be at Harrogate Hydro between 9.30am and midday and at Harrogate Library from 1pm to 3pm.

Residents can comment on an online survey at www.northyorksfire.gov.uk before April 28.

The review will last through 2014, with a report to be presented to the Fire Authority in Feb 2015.

A public consultation will be held through 2015, with any changes to be introduced April 2016.

HOW FIRE SERVICES ARE MAKING CHANGES ELSEWHERE

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has introduced smaller fire engines - converted pick up trucks - which carries equipment tailored to the needs of the area. These can be crewed by three firefighters instead of five, are cheaper to run and purchase. The service also trialling special backpacks which mean firefighters don’t have to carry big hoses to fight smaller fires.

Surrey firefighters are linking up with a global search and rescue group to provide round-the-clock support in river rescues and in confined spaces. The firm uses experts recruited mainly from the military, and has its own helicopter, specialist dive teams, fleet of inflatable boats and a remote control submarine.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, faced with making savings of £8.8m over the next three years, has revealed it may have to close some stations to save £5.5m. It would increase the number of community fire stations with two fire appliances, but these changes would reduce staff numbers by 131 posts.

West Midlands is also introducing special pick-up truck fire engines, replacing some bigger fire engines, and reducing staff numbers.

Harrogate (average per year)

Incidents 811

Car crashes 45

Other 120

Residential fires 48

Building fires 73

All fires 176

Malicious calls 15

False alarms 471

Knaresborough

Incidents 171

Car crashes 23

Other 23

Residential fire 10

Building fires 16

All fires 42

Malicious calls 2

False alarms 83

Masham

Incidents 35

Car crashes 3

Other 5

Residential 2

Building 4

All fires 15

Malicious calls 0

False alarms 12

Ripon

Incidents 197

Car crashes 16

Other 33

Residential 14

Building 20

All fires 60

Malicious 1

False alarms 89

Sherburn

Incidents 27

Car crashes 7

Other 2

Residential 1

Building 2

All fires 12

Malicious 0

False alarms 6

Summerbridge

Incidents 47

Car crashes 6

Other 10

Residential 3

Building 4

All fires 15

Malicious 0

False alarms 17

Tadcaster

Incidents 210

Car crashes 24

Other 24

Residential 8

Building 15

All fires 59

Malicious calls 1

False alarms 103