United Kingdom — A FIREFIGHTERS’ union says it is “concerned” proposals to change the way small woodland fires are tackled could risk larger blazes like the Swinley Forest fires taking hold.
However, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) has dismissed the claims by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) that continuing a trial of park rangers instead of firefighters first responding to small undergrowth fires will endanger firefighters and the public.
The service carried out the first part of the Bracknell Forest Area Fires Partnership Trial last summer then resumed it last week despite the union asking it to be delayed until the investigation into the devastating Swinley Forest fires last month [MAY] is complete.
Under the plan, the management of small woodland fires would be handed over to park rangers in the borough. Also, the union is worried the adoption of a Low Risk Incidents Policy that includes such fires could mean slower response times because full-time fire engines would respond to low risk calls on part-time station areas’ grounds.
Berkshire FBU Brigade Chairman Maurice Whyte praised the “outstanding” work of crews, officers and support staff on tackling the Swinley Forest fires but said: “The recent incident at Swinley Forest stretched RBFRS resources to their utmost and diluted fire cover in Berkshire with reduced attendances at other incidents.
“We are concerned that the new policies such as the Bracknell Forest Area Fires Partnership and the Low Risk Incident Policy will leave Berkshire vulnerable to the impact of large forest fires in future. Every fire is small at the outset but it is foolish to delay dealing with it. Not using the nearest fire engine would be such a delay.”
The fire service said there were no problems when the policy was tried last summer but to make a long-term decision, more research needs to be done this summer and it would be too late if they had to wait for the findings of the Swinley fire later this summer. It said the FBU had been consulted and the trial would be halted immediately if the Swinley Forest de-brief or any evidence suggests it is unsound.
RBFRS Deputy Chief Fire Officer Olaf Baars said: “We are satisfied that the trial is based on sound rationale and that the Forestry Commission/ Crown Estates are both equipped and competent to deal with nuisance fires within their estate and that this is an appropriate activity which forms part of the overall responsibilities of land management. If we do not continue with the trial we will not collect the evidence required to make sound, long-term policy decisions.”