Monday, 22 October 2018

Village fire station future to be decided in new year

THE future of Wargrave fire station will be decided in February.

The retained station in Victoria Road was spared closure last year and given 12 months to improve its crewing levels or risk being shut.

The trial ends this month and then data on crewing will be assessed by fire chiefs before the final decision is made.

The station, which is the oldest in Berkshire, was told it must increase the availability of its crew from around six per cent to 60 per cent if it was to remain. In recent years, the availability has been as little as 2.4 per cent.

Last year, the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority held a public consultation on plans to cut costs.

Residents across the county were asked to state their preference from seven possible measures designed to save £1.4 million.

The most popular proposal was to close Wargrave and Pangbourne fire stations. However, following a campaign by Wargrave residents and parish councillors, members of the authority agreed to suspend closing the village station pending the results of the trial.

The authority said the savings that would have been made by closing the station immediately would have to be found elsewhere in the budget. Only if both criteria were met would Wargrave remain open.

The station, which opened in 1903, currently has 15 firefighters and three in training but has historically had problems recruiting 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.

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.

The petition was started by villager Chez Annetts, whose father Tony was a watch manager at Wargrave station. She said the station had not reached the 60 per cent availability but could do so once all the new recruits had been trained.

She said: “When they wanted to close the station we had four firefighters and by December we will have 18. I know we haven’t reached the 60 per cent but that has been delayed by repeated training courses being cancelled and they should take that into consideration.

“They should be trained in six months but some of our boys have taken nine months to complete. We will have the manpower when fully trained to meet the quota.”

Ms Annetts said the authority aimed to give all households in the area “an appliance within 10 minutes of this doorstep” and this would not be achieved if Wargrave was closed.

A spokesman for the fire authority said: “It was decided to defer a decision on the closure of Wargrave fire station for one year on two conditions — the availability of the crew increasing to 60 per cent and the savings being found elsewhere.

“Crewing and financial data is now being analysed before a report is presented by the lead member for integrated risk management planning to the authority for their consideration on February 25.”

The station holds regular open days where residents can look at the equipment and live demonstrations take place. There are also tests for those interested in joining the crew, while potential firefighters can sign up for training.

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