Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1140 - 1144)



  1140. Is that not a key point in the equation, that there is a gap there where, as you say, you could not have 200 firefighters in London tied up for three months? Is there not a need then, if the military is to be used in that respect, to know what the capacity is and to have some mechanism whereby it can be brought in so that you could withdraw firefighters over a period of time?
  (Mr Dobson) The problem with it is the document Military Aid to Civil Community that details all the military aid to civil powers is very clear that the military aid cannot be taken as a given because it will change on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis, it will change very frequently. What we would need to do is to have at least an agreed level of cover or level of provision that would be available at any time during the day or night within certain response times in order to plan on that assumption. At the moment we are not able to have that because the military availability does change so frequently and, therefore, we are not able to plan on the basis of having military aid available.

  1141. If you had an assurance that you had that, that would be helpful?
  (Mr Dobson) Yes.
  (Mr Bull) Coming back to the issue of CBRN and training there, obviously we have standing operating procedures and we have now been included in the loop at the MoD training facility at Winterbourne Gunner where all police Silver and Gold Commanders go for training. We have now established a course there for all senior Silver and Gold Commanders in every fire authority in the United Kingdom and we are now integrating the ambulance service into that as well. We have had discussions with ministers about making that available on a tripartite basis because at the moment it is ad hoc and there are difficulties and sensitivities about funding, it is a Home Office fund, and all the things that go with that that we need to get through. That needs to be made on a tripartite basis. We also need to ensure then that every firefighter receives training in CBRN and we have a national college at Moreton-in-the Marsh which will be dealing with the middle command levels and then we will have a cascade system down for the training for fire authorities throughout the UK.

  1142. Does that go to retained fire officers in Devon, for example?
  (Mr Bull) I was just going to pick up on that.
  (Mr Young) For those Members around the table who are not familiar with the concept of retained firefighters, in most rural areas fire stations are crewed by retained firefighters who have other professions, other businesses, whatever they may do, but are on call from their home or their place of work to the Fire Service and respond to the fire station in a very similar way that lifeboat crews respond to the lifeboat station. Generally speaking, the level of training that they have in this particular area varies from one authority to another but in most they are trained to carry out response to chemical incidents, they do have the equipment to undertake that sort of activity. Our expectation would be that we would cascade that further training down to retained firefighters as well. Interestingly, about 60 per cent of all the fire stations in the whole of the country are crewed by retained firefighters and there are about 15,000 retained firefighters in the UK. How well we can ensure their availability over an extended period of time, possibly responding to an incident in another part of the country, is something of an unknown because we have never faced that before.

Jim Knight

  1143. Is it not the case that it is becoming more difficult to retain firefighters because they are living away from their workplace, getting co-operation from employers can be more difficult and generally sustaining the cover with retained stations is more and more challenging?
  (Mr Young) Yes, particularly in those areas which are in the commute to work radius of large towns and cities where the majority of the working population may well not work in the area in which they live and retained, by their very nature, we rely upon their availability in the area to be on call to the Fire Service all the time. Many fire brigades around the country have significant problems in recruitment and retention of retained firefighters.

  Jim Knight: Can I—


  1144. Gentlemen, thank you. I am opening a meeting at one o'clock, you can ask them afterwards. Thank you very much for coming, it was immensely helpful and reassuring. There are some additional questions we intended to ask, including Mr Knight, but he has got his quote in for this week's local paper. There might be additional documents that you think might be helpful, so if you would not mind because we are not fire specialists but we would like to know. Thank you very much for coming along and talking to us.

  (Mr Bull) Thank you for the opportunity.

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