A firefighters’ union has warned that Northamptonshire’s brigade cannot take any more cuts after a crew was “slow-clapped” by neighbours arriving at a house blaze this week.
The fire at Bickerstaffes Road in Towcester, on Friday evening, had spread to a neighbouring semi-detached home by the time the firefighters arrived half-an-hour after the original 999 call was made.
A team from the Mouton station was forced to cut across Northampton to make it to the blaze as engines in Northampton and Towcester were out on other jobs. The standard response time for house fires is eight minutes.
A spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) confirmed the crew was “slow clapped” on arrival, due to the length of time it took to attend, adding that crews have been jeered on other occasions.
Northamptonshire County Council, which currently manages the fire brigade’s budget, says the half-an-hour wait was the result of an exceptionally busy day.
But the FBU spokesman said the response time shows just how stretched the fire service is – considering it might still have to find a further £1.5 million of savings between now and 2020.
He said: “This was all down to resources. We are already under-resourced during the day. Then when you add in a couple of emergency incidents and you throw a house fire into the mix - we are struggling to cover those things sufficiently.”
In April, the county council cut 12 full-time firefighters from the service as part of plans to save a further £1.5 million before 2020.
But back in August, the county’s busiest station, The Mounts in Northampton, was not staffed because the standard four crew members were not available.
Control of the fire service budget is almost certain to pass on to police and crime commissioner Stephen Mold next year.
But the FBU spokesman said the recent events have to act as a warning to the new man in charge. He said: “It is easy to see from the pictures that fire spread beyond where it should have. If the Towcester crew had have been available they would have been there in five minutes.”
A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said the delayed response had nothing to do with cuts.
He said: “There was a simultaneous incident in the Towcester area which involved a number of appliances in the south of the county and so the next nearest appliance was sent to the house fire. This is normal business for us and is how every fire brigade operates.
“Northamptonshire County Council will continue to call on Government for a review of the current funding mechanism to secure a fairer funding deal for the county that better reflects today’s population and our social care pressures.”