THE day after yet another major fire at one of Ilfracombe s many Victorian buildings, Devon and Somerset Fire Authority voted overwhelmingly not to scrap nine full-time fire fighter posts in the town. With a choice of cutting Ilfracombe and Paignton back
THE day after yet another major fire at one of Ilfracombe's many Victorian buildings, Devon and Somerset Fire Authority voted overwhelmingly not to scrap nine full-time fire fighter posts in the town.With a choice of cutting Ilfracombe and Paignton back to "part-time" retained stations or removing permanent crews from three aerial ladder platforms at Barnstaple, Torquay and Exeter, authority councillors voted 21-4 in favour of the "lesser of two evils."The axing of the crews forms part of a package of measures to meet a predicted £1.346 million funding shortfall, with the remainder met by using £160,000 from service reserves.It means platforms will now be "dual crewed" by regular crews, which critics have argued could at times lead to crewing the normal pumping appliances or the aerial ladder, but not both.The plan was voted down in October but North Devon member Councillor Rodney Cann led an initiative to get it back on the table after obtaining the support of six fellow members."It would have been disastrous to have lost those jobs in Ilfracombe and reduce it to a retained station, especially in view of the serious fire which occurred," he told the Gazette.At the lengthy budget meeting, the irony was not lost on those present that mere hours before, both the Ilfracombe crew and the Barnstaple platform proved instrumental in halting a fierce blaze which threatened an entire terrace and numerous homes.Chief Fire Officer Paul Young began by praising the work of all the fire fighters involved in successfully containing the Hillsborough Terrace blaze in one property without loss of human life or serious injury.He said afterwards: "None of the senior managers want to see changes to the front line services we deliver to the public. We did not want to find ourselves in this position but I'm pleased the decision has now been made."While in Ilfracombe at least the decision has been met with relief if not delight, the Fire Brigades Union has criticised the choice."We think we put a viable 'option C' forward but unfortunately it was not taken up," said Devon and Somerset FBU chairman Bob Walker."We are obviously pleased Ilfracombe and Paignton will not have hours cut, but at the end of the day we have maintained the opinion we have given all along - that cuts cost lives."If the aerial ladder had not been able to respond as quickly on Thursday, it would have affected efforts to fight the fire, he said."With a fire like that, it about being able to attack the seat of the fire and the only machine able to do that with any success is the aerial platform," he added.North Devon MP Nick Harvey said it was a relief to the town, but he was not happy at the platform losing its crew."I do worry what the implications might be and I think when it's decided the platform is needed, it will take longer to get into action than it does now. I'm worried about the repercussions for our future safety," he said.Ilfracombe Mayor John Swan said he was delighted for the town, with Thursday's example "if any further were needed" showing just how important it was to have full fire cover in the town."It's fantastic news for us and demonstrates clearly it's the right decision for Ilfracombe, but the down side to our relief is the service in Barnstaple will suffer," he said.