Concerns raised over Northampton's fire cover after claims town is staffed at the bare minimum amid heatwave blazes

The aerial ladder platform for Northampton is currently out of service, prompting fears of how the fire service could tackle a blaze at one of Northampton's high-rise apartment blocks.
The aerial ladder platform for Northampton is currently out of service, prompting fears of how the fire service could tackle a blaze at one of Northampton's high-rise apartment blocks.

Only 12 firefighters are regularly on standby to fight fires across Northampton and the town is without a ladder to tackle high-rise blazes, it has been claimed.

The figures, revealed by opposition politicians, come after Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue reported a 42 per cent rise in fires over the recent hot spell.

Darren Dovey.

Darren Dovey.

A recent National Fire Chiefs reports into the county council-funded service described it as “very lean”, though the county's chief fire officer says there is no crisis.

Because of difficulties in recruiting part-time crew for retained stations such as Long Buckby and Woodford Halse, sources have told the Chron how Northampton is down to its minimum crewing level of 12 for "90 per cent of the time".

That means only four crew members are stationed on three engines, based at the Mounts, Mereway and Moulton. Last year Fire Brigades Union members told the Chronicle & Echo they felt unsafe with any less than five firefighters per engine.

Chief fire officer Darren Dovey has told the Chronicle & Echo that the service is also short of some 100 retained firefighters and is in a state of funding limbo because of the current financial difficulties at the county council.

Six fire engines were called to a field in Harlestone Firs earlier this week.

Six fire engines were called to a field in Harlestone Firs earlier this week.

Councillor Danielle Stone, whose Castle ward covers Spring Boroughs, fears the service is now stretched to the point where lives are at risk.

She said: “The current hot spell is dramatically increasing the risk of fires both within and on the outskirts of the town.

"I am concerned that the austerity cuts to the Fire service here have left it with little or no resilience.

"There are now only 12 firefighters on duty for the town at any one time. Our fire engines are being deployed out as far as Daventry because of the shortages in retained firefighters and I am concerned that if we get a large fire or even a simple fire in a house the fire service will not be able to respond quickly.

Plans to move the fire service budget over to the police and crime commissioner were announced last year.

Plans to move the fire service budget over to the police and crime commissioner were announced last year.

"My ward has high rise buildings and it’s shocking to know that the nearest fire engine with a high platform would have to come from Corby, as the one in Northampton is broken.

"Our firefighters do a fantastic job but the cuts to the fire service are putting them and the people of Northampton at risk. This is not acceptable.”

One serving firefighter told the Chron: "It will take a disaster to show the failings, unfortunately."

Despite the shortages, Mr Dovey said the service has managed to cope during recent major events, including the Far Cotton and Briar Hill floods, the Abington Street fire and the recent large heathland fire in Harlestone Firs.

Councillor Danielle Stone.

Councillor Danielle Stone.

The service runs a bank system where off-duty firefighters can make themselves available to be called in on their days off for time-and-a-quarter pay. Crews from neighbouring counties can also be drafted in to help in major incidents.

He believes the service has the resources to respond to a high-rise fire in Spring Boroughs because the current directive is to fight such blazes from inside the building, not using an aerial ladder platform, though this could change following the Grenfell inquiry.

Mr Dovey, said; "Would I like more money? Yes, so would anyone in the public sector.

"We are not in crisis at all," he added. "We are going through a difficult period because of all the pressures of austerity, the situation at the county council and our retirement profile."

The fire service in Northamptonshire has seen £4.5 million of reductions to its budget since 2011, with 10 per cent of its frontline firefighting staff cut since then.

A deal to move the budget control of the fire service from the cash-strapped county council over to the police and crime commissioner Stephen Mold is now not likely to go through until January, as a result of the turmoil at One Angel Square.

The move, Mr Dovey said, would allow the service to be funded and to precept council tax payers separately. Currently, the service has a capital plan in place, but no means to fund it. The training centre in Corby has been out of action for 18 months as a result.

"If we transfer to the PCC there is a plan in place to stabilise the finances," he said.

"It will create a different environment totally.

"Also, the county council is not going to exist in 20 months' time - we need to find a new home anyway."