Portsmouth fire leaves people in high buildings at risk, union says

Firefighters at the Impress launderette in Albert Road in Southsea Picture: UKNIP
Firefighters at the Impress launderette in Albert Road in Southsea Picture: UKNIP

Portsmouth MP suppots calls for first aid training

  • Fire rips through Southsea laundrette
  • Union says there was nobody to man a specialist unit
  • Unit takes 45 minutes from Southampton
  • Service says it would have been sent if it was required immediately
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A ROW over cuts to the fire service has been reignited after an aerial ladder truck from Southampton was called to a fire when there was a similar vehicle two miles down the road in Southsea.

Firefighters were called to a blaze at a launderette in Albert Road, Southsea, yesterday morning which took over three hours to put out. More than 50 officers attended.

The whole reason we have an aerial ladder platform in Portsmouth is because there are so many high-rise buildings.

Nigel McCullen

Crews from Southsea were the first to respond. Two trucks initially went, each with at least four firefighters on them. Back-up was called for so another truck from Southsea went with a further four firefighters on board.

This left nobody at the station to man the aerial platform ladder, which was later required at the launderette.

Back-up was called from other stations across Hampshire, meaning an aerial platform ladder had to come from St Mary’s.

Some people have now raised concerns about what would happen in the event of an incident in a high-rise building – although the fire service is adamant that the Southsea aerial ladder truck would be sent out if that was the case.

As reported, Hampshire Fire and Rescue made £4m cuts, with crews day and night decreasing from 20 to 16.
Nigel McCullen, chairman of the Hampshire Fire Brigades Union, says that the inevitable happened.
Mr McCullen, who works at Southsea, said: ‘This is what we thought would happen and we brought it up in meetings before cuts were made.
‘The whole reason we have an aerial ladder platform in Portsmouth is because there are so many high-rise buildings. It also has a knock-on affect across the county. If the ALP was stuck in Southampton, it would have had to come from Basingstoke.
Retired Southsea firefighter Peter Byrne said: ‘The aerial platform was previously manned all the time not shadow covered. A crew would have gone back from Albert Road and got it quicker than waiting for it from Southampton.’
Lib Dem leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who led a petition against the cutbacks, said there were ‘big questions that need to be asked’.
He said: ‘We were told not to worry and risks would not change. But the aerial ladder platform sat at the station as there was no crew for it.
‘If I was somebody living in a high-rise in Portsmouth, then I would be very worried.
‘It was a simple reassurance given, that cover would not change, and that has been proven to be clearly untrue.’
A spokesman for Hampshire Fire and Rescue said that the aerial ladder would have been sent immediately if it was necessary.
He said: ‘Three Southsea fire engines were first on the scene followed by other crews from across the county.
‘Our teams tackled and extinguished the fire, stopping it spreading to parts of the upper building and adjacent properties.
‘During the incident an aerial ladder platform was requested for the purposes of inspection and damping down only.
‘As with every incident we attend we were able to bring the appropriate resources to effectively deal with this fire.
‘We have the resources in place across our cities and communities to tackle all types of incidents.’
The fire ripped through and gutted the dry cleaners and took over three hours to put out. The occupants of the flat above had evacuated by the time the fire crews arrived. Nobody is believed to be hurt.
An investigation is under way into the cause.