Fire chiefs have revealed how recruitment problems and turnover mean availability of retained firefighters has been below target at five stations in Norfolk.

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The stations which have, over the past three years, failed to hit Norfolk Fire and Rescue service’s target for retained stations to be available for operational duty with a sufficient crew for at least 90pc of the time are Heacham, Massingham, Swaffham, Terrington and West Walton.

Bosses at the service said that, to improve their performance, all are subject to close managerial action, but it could be some time before they are back up to full strength.

The reason is that most of the stations have experienced turnover and a loss of key skills, while they are struggling to recruit suitable candidates.

At a recent meeting of Norfolk County Council’s fire and rescue overview scrutiny committee, the problems came under the spotlight.

Councillors focused on the issues in Swaffham, where availability in the year to date is 62.2pc.

Jenny Chamberlin, Conservative county councillor for Diss and Roydon, said she was rather surprised such a large town was struggling to have a retained crew available.

Brigade manager Karen Palframan said: “I think it’s a certain amount of bad luck, In the past three years there has been a significant turnover. They are in a trough and getting out of it is taking quite some time. It is a 12-person station and we are down to nine.”

She said new staff were being trained, but that it took time to get them to a point where the crew were equipped with all the skills needed.

Alison Thomas, chairman of the panel and Conservative councillor for Long Stratton, stressed: “Just because Swaffham does not have a crew available, that doesn’t mean they do not have fire cover.”
She said other stations would cover when the crew was not available.

Performance at all stations over the past four years shows the target across the county was just missed at 89pc, with performance in 2012/13 dipping slightly to 87.7pc.

Twenty-six of 39 stations achieved over 90pc availability and eight pumps improved their performance in year to over 90pc.

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