Union threat to new ‘fire ambulances’

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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) may take legal action over a plan that would see firefighters driving “fire ambulances” in Long Sutton and two other Lincolnshire towns.

Firefighters are seeking assurances that medical emergencies won’t take priority over fires and say the proposals play “Russian roulette with fire safety”.

Around 50 people attended a public meeting last week at Long Sutton Fire Station and welcomed the step that could see a fire ambulance based there.

South Holland and The Deepings MP John Hayes believes problems highlighted by the FBU can be overcome – and parish councillor Jack Tyrrell said: “I hope they don’t ruin it for us.”

People in The Suttons – particularly Sutton Bridge – have endured long waits for ambulances and believe the fire ambulance proposed as part of a year-long, £491,000 trial could mean the difference between life and death for some.

East Midlands Ambulance Service is supposed to get to 75 per cent of life-threatening calls within eight minutes, but figures going to Lincolnshire County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee tomorrow show South Holland, Stamford and Bourne are the worst served of any part of the county.

The so-called “red one” performance for this area is 57.14 per cent – and that’s up by almost two per cent on 2013 – while the performance for the county as a whole is 78.58 per cent, up by 9.81 per cent on the previous year.

Mr Hayes has already written to EMAS chief executive Sue Noyes to see what steps are being taken to improve the ambulance service and now wants to know why the performance for the south of the county “is so poor”.

Mr Hayes said: “This further information is most disturbing and I will write again as a result of this.

“We can’t have over 40 per cent of the calls not meeting the target.”

The FBU says it has concerns over “the legality” of the fire ambulance consultation and want to see a stipulation that “the mobilisation of fire engines would always take priority over ambulances”.

County FBU secretary Karl McKee said: “These proposals play Russian roulette with fire safety and could lead to damage to property, loss of business and even loss of life.

“Local firefighters are happy to work with any other agency when appropriate, but we are not here to prop up ambulance cover at the expense of fire safety.”

Mr Hayes believes a sensible solution can be found as the fire service already deals with incidents when two important calls come in at the same time.

He said: “I can’t see that it’s an automatic reason not to consider it.”

Coun Tyrrell said the number of firefighters at Long Sutton has increased to compensate for having a fire ambulance and, like his parish council, is keen to see one deployed in the town.

He said: “We have so many complaints about late ambulance services – this (the fire ambulance) is only helping them (EMAS). It’s just like an extra pair of hands.”

• If it goes ahead, the fire ambulance at Long Sutton would serve places within an eight-munute radius – including Sutton Bridge, where a man died after a three-hour wait for an ambulance.