Fears smaller fire vehicles will put more lives at risk

An example of an 'intermediate' fire vehicle
An example of an 'intermediate' fire vehicle
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LIVES will be put at risk if smaller vehicles are brought in by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

That’s the stark warning being given by union officials and a councillor who sits on the fire service authority board.

It comes as the service has released pictures of what the new vehicles look like. One picture shows a ‘first-response’ vehicle and the second is an ‘intermediate’ vehicle.

The service also plans to have an ‘enhanced’ truck, which is the same size as a current engine.

Mark Chapman of the Hampshire Fire Brigades Union said: ‘Our current fleet of fire engines, soon to be called “enhanced” vehicles, can deal with 100 per cent of calls.

‘We will see that fleet of 75 real fire engines reduced to just 25. The proposed new vehicles set to replace the 50 removed can only deal with 70 per cent of calls.

‘The remaining 30 per cent are life-critical incidents where a full crew of four firefighters are required.

‘The new vehicle can crew with four, but this cannot be guaranteed in all cases and that’s why we are concerned.’

As it stands a crew of two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus cannot go into a burning building, as there needs to be four firefighters.

Councillor Roger Price, who is a member of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, said: ‘The problem is we have not seen what these first-response vehicles can do.

‘If they turned up at a burning house first, there would be back-up coming, but there would be a problem if there were people trapped inside. That is a big risk, plus the firefighters would be put under immense moral pressure to rescue people and to go inside the building. It would be a risk to them but any firefighter would want to save somebody’s life.’

A consultation on project Risk Review is under way.

About £12.2m needs to be saved over the next four years. As part of this more than 200 firefighter roles could be cut.

But deputy chief fire officer Neil Odin said replacing the fleet would improve the service as vehicles would have better equipment and smaller engines would be able to get through cramped streets, a problem in Portsmouth, more quickly.

He said: ‘There’s been a lot of debate on whether the first-response vehicles are vans, but hopefully people will see they are more like the traditional fire engine but smaller. I don’t like the idea of a van coming to put a fire out.

‘The new fleet will have improved equipment and will still do the work the current engines do now.’

Mr Odin said the first-response vehicle is the ‘first strike’ to a call and it can carry up to four firefighters.

New equipment on board would mean that firefighters arriving at a blaze would be able to use a ‘thermal scanner’ to find the seat of the fire.

And a device called a high-pressure lance is able to make a small hole into a building and then pump in water to cool the area down. Mr Odin said these changes would make it safer for a firefighter to enter a building.