Thursday, 23 November 2017

Fire station saved from axe for at least one more year

Wargrave fire station to stay open for another year

WARGRAVE fire station will remain open for at least another year but staff availability must improve to guarantee its long-term future.

The retained station in Victoria Road was one of those at risk of closure following a consultation on savings to be made by the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority.

Residents across Berkshire were asked to respond to seven possible cost-cutting measures to save £1.4 million initially. Three of these included closing the Wargrave station.

The results showed the most popular measure was option one, which was to close Wargrave and Pangbourne fire stations as well as abolishing the retained support unit and remotely managing three other stations.

But at a meeting of the authority in Calcot on Tuesday, members opted to amend the proposal, allowing Wargrave station to stay open for another 12 months by the end of which it must have increased the availability of its crew to 60 per cent.

Lead member Councillor Emma Webster said the savings the authority would have made by closing the station immediately would have to be found elsewhere in the budget. Only if both of those criteria were met in the next 12 months would Wargrave remain open.

The station has historically had problems recruiting firefighters and nearly had to close in 2014 after two-thirds of the crew left in two years.

This meant that if one of the remaining four retained firefighters resigned, the station would no longer be allowed to respond to 999 calls and could be forced to close.

The availability of crews from Wargrave has been as low as 2.4 per cent but last year rose to about six per cent.

Hundreds of Wokingham borough residents responded to the consultation, while a 240-strong petition calling for the Wargrave station to stay open was submitted to the authority.

There were also representations from Wargrave Parish Council and seven staff at the station who wrote a letter outlining its importance to the community.

Chez Annetts, who lives in the village, started the petition to keep the station open and spoke at the meeting. Miss Annetts, whose father Tony is a former watch manager at Wargrave, said that while the station had suffered from low crew numbers in the past, it now had seven staff with three more potential recruits depending on the authority’s decision.

She said: “Wargrave and the surrounding villages consist of buildings 40 years or older. Local knowledge is crucial in finding these hidden-away buildings and single-track, unnamed roads.”

She said a car fire in Victoria Road in January could have been dealt with more effectively by the Wargrave crew had it been called out.

She said: “It took 22 minutes for a crew to attend. The car was one minute from Wargrave station. The Wargrave crew was available but control was not aware. The closest two stations are Maidenhead and Wokingham Road, both of which are 17 minutes away.”

Tregear Thomas, of the Fire Brigades Union, said that it had been suggested in 2008 that Wargrave station should close and another built in Twyford.

He said: “It’s regrettable that 10 years later we are still discussing the same options without any action having been taken.”

Cllr Webster said: “The decision to close a fire station is never an easy one, especially in rural communities where they are often at the centre of the community.

“I promise we will try to find savings to keep the station open but availability levels need to increase. I will personally come to see the crew to discuss how we can get to 60 per cent.”

Councillor Colin Dudley, who chairs the authority, added: “This proposal with the amendment passes the baton back to the people of Wargrave. If the fire station is that important to you, then it also needs to be important and useful to the authority.

“There’s no point having a fully equipped appliance and station that only goes out one day in 19.

“A fire station does not put out fires, the people coming out of it do.”

After the meeting, Miss Annetts said: “I’m really pleased, it’s the best we could have hoped for under the circumstances.

“Now we just need to focus on galvanising local support to make the target of 60 per cent availability achievable.

“This means we need to get a least 15 crew on the station so we need local people to come forward. It has got to stay open.”

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