Surrey fire specialist rescue support deal criticised

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service's decision to join forces with a private rescue firm has been criticised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Specialist Group International, which helped in the search for missing girl April Jones, is to provide firefighters with expertise and equipment.

Surrey County councillors agreed to finalise a deal earlier this week.

The FBU said the council should increase firefighter numbers rather than giving money to a private firm.

The authority said the partnership, which it claimed would be the "first of its kind in the UK", would provide Surrey firefighters with access to a helicopter, a specialist dive team, a fleet of inflatable boats, a remote control submarine and 4x4 vehicles.

'Provide rescue expertise'

It would not reveal the cost until the contract has been signed because of "commercial sensitivities".

"Specialist Group International is the best in the world at what it does and would provide rescue expertise we don't currently have in a cost-effective way.

"This groundbreaking deal would be the first time a rescue company has provided permanent backup to a fire service.

"Most importantly, this would make Surrey a safer place. For example, more people need to be rescued from incidents in the water than from house fires these days, so enhancing this capability will save lives," said Councillor Kay Hammond.

Surrey FBU spokesman Richard Jones said fire services had a statutory obligation to have contingencies in place to help during major incidents but increasing staff on engines from four to five should take priority.

"If the money can be found to fund this pilot scheme with the private sector, why can't it be found to fund fully-crewed fire appliances throughout the county?

"The investment in crewing levels is needed now. Is it ethical to use money collected from council tax to fund private companies when Surrey Fire and Rescue Service does not have adequate funds to crew its fire engines properly?"

In response, a spokesman for Surrey County Council said: "All Surrey's whole-time fire engines are available at all times with either four or five firefighters on board.

"This will continue and to suggest otherwise is misleading. We are actively working on a scheme to increase the number of firefighters riding each fire engine as clearly committed to in our public safety plan. We've also invested in new fire engines, new equipment and new training."

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