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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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‘We told you so!’ Firefighters’ crisis warning ‘proved right’

A “MAJOR delay” following a suspected arson attack on a Mirehouse home led to the blaze spreading across the property, firefighters claimed this week.

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burned out: The wrecked vehicle and motorcycles at Mirehouse

Just days after Whitehaven firefighters warned the community was being left “vulnerable’’ by a lack of fire cover, only crews from Allerdale were initially available to tackle the fire on Sunday.

Police said the fire could have had “tragic consequences’’ had the family been at home at the time.

What started as a vehicle fire on Wasdale Close last Sunday afternoon saw the blaze spread to the kitchen of the property. The fire also damaged a shed, three motorbikes and a taxi.

However, the nearest fire engines were called from Workington and Cockermouth because the Whitehaven firefighters were left without a full crew and a necessary manager.

Vital time was lost, Whitehaven firefighters say, as the first engine, travelling from Workington, would have taken around 14 minutes to arrive. “What would have been a straightforward job became more complicated because of the major delay. This led to the fire spreading, and becoming more serious than it otherwise would have been.

“The Whitehaven crew would have taken around five minutes to attend the fire, the crew from Workington a minimum of 14, while the Cockermouth crew would have been around 30 minutes.

“Arriving 10 minutes earlier, we would have been able to contain the fire and it wouldn’t have spread to the house. There was an acetylene cylinder which could have been devastating had it exploded.”

In last week’s Whitehaven News, firefighters warned against the fire engine being taken off the run “to send half the crew to Workington, leaving the people of Whitehaven very vulnerable”.

This week they said: “It didn’t take long for us to be proved right. On Sunday, a full crew on the Whitehaven whole-time engine had deliberately been taken off the run to maintain a full crew at Workington. Whitehaven retained was also off the run due to having no manager available. We had warned about the dangers of leaving Whitehaven with no fire cover having BOTH engines off at the same time.’’

Police are treating the Mirehouse fire as suspected arson. Detective Sergeant George Atkinson said: “This incident could have had tragic consequences. It is lucky that the family who live at the house were on holiday.”

And the Whitehaven firefighters added: “If this incident had happened at night, when the residents were in bed, it could have been much more serious.”

A county council spokesperson said: “Our business continuity plans to enable us to maintain a fire and rescue service capability. We will always prioritise available resources to make as many fire engines available as possible. Our business continuity arrangements involve combining crews or relocating managers to cover key appliances.

“Resources are matched to risk, so sometimes when Workington or Whitehaven do not have a full crew or manager, the Enhanced Rescue Pump at Workington – a fire engine which carries extra specialist rescue equipment – is crewed as a priority. This has meant on occasion that the Whitehaven regular pump has been unavailable.

“Any additional crew members at Whitehaven are combined with the station’s retained crew to maximise availability.”

Police have asked anyone in the area between 5pm and 5.30pm on Sunday to contact police on 101. Alternatively, people can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Have your say

There is no point having any Fire Officers or even a Fire Station at all in Whitehaven if the capability is not there to provide a safe response to incidents. You can't gamble with peoples lives. Yes, we know money is tight but fire cover is an essential basic need and all stations should be fully staffed at all times.

Posted by Ian C on 29 August 2014 at 07:03

Something else sorry..... If, as suggested, the fire cover in Whitehaven is provided by overtime I would urge the previous commenter to ask why that is. Overtime is surely payed at a premium rate and an organisation would only pay it if forced to do so. Perhaps the reason it's forced into doing so is that there are less personnel than that organisation needs to fulfil its obligations?

I can't think why else it would pay overtime?

Posted by Robin of Locksley on 25 August 2014 at 10:46

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