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Service steps up to 2021 challenges

Following the unprecedented year prior, 2021 continued to present significant challenges for everyone, but Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service continued to deliver its vital services, while also providing support for partner agencies.

The year began with mopping up from significant flooding across the county over the Christmas period. The country was also in the midst of another national lockdown, with those that were able to still working from their homes. Staff across the Service pulled out all the stops to ensure fire engines were fully crewed despite rising covid sickness and self-isolation challenges.

The Service was quick to offer its support to NHS colleagues to initially set up new mass vaccination sites around the county, with staff then giving their time to help with the running of the centres. Emergency call handlers, support staff, fire officers and both on-call and wholetime firefighters all pitched in at centres throughout the first few months of the year. More than 4,500 hours of volunteering were given by more than 100 members of staff, including some being trained to administer vaccines.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland said: “This year our staff have once again faced numerous challenges head on and ensured we’ve not only kept our communities safe, but also went above and beyond to help the vital national vaccine rollout effort. I am immensely proud of the way our staff continue to deliver vital work across the organisation, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

During 2021 the Service welcomed 28 new firefighters, with the Service’s Training Centre team having to adapt and maintain flexibility due to changing guidance. There were also 3 new emergency call handlers recruited along with 15 new support staff.

The Service’s Combined Fire Control celebrated its tenth anniversary, with emergency call handlers receiving more than 17,000 calls, including around 7,000 for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. They sent fire engines and officers to more than 5,600 incidents in Cambridgeshire, including 1,400 fires, 266 road traffic collisions and 141 animal rescues.

A further milestone was reached in February when plans for a new training facility and fire station in Huntingdon were approved. The project, which involves building a modern, fit-for purpose training centre and new community fire station, progressed at pace with construction beginning in the Autumn and is due for completion later this year.

The Service welcomed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) again in 2021 for a second full inspection. The inspectors were impressed with what they found, commending the Service for putting the health and wellbeing of its people at the forefront of decision-making. They also assessed CFRS as Good across the three key areas of inspection, putting the Service among the best performing services in the country.

Crews attended more than 200 accidental house fires last year. Many of these started in the kitchen, involving unattended cooking or electrical appliances. A large number of these fires could have been prevented and residents are urged to start 2022 thinking about fire safety in the home, checking electrical equipment, starting a new routine at night to close doors and switch appliances off, making an escape plan and importantly, ensuring smoke alarms are fitted to each floor of the home and that they are tested at least once a month.

Chief Fire Officer Strickland added: “It has been another challenging and unique year for us, with a lot of uncertainty. However, thanks to our excellent and dedicated staff, who have again performed above and beyond, we have continued to deliver our services to the people of Cambridgeshire. This has been recognised by the inspection team from HMICFRS and I am very proud to work with such a dedicated group of people, who are passionate about serving their communities.

“We face another uncertain year this year with covid rates higher than ever, impacting on crewing and resulting in a lot of hard work by officers and our resource management unit to ensure we have enough firefighters to crew our fire engines. We also face financial uncertainty with increasing inflation and no budget certainty beyond the next financial year. We are however confident we have the right plans and, more importantly, the right people, to deal with whatever comes our way in 2022 and beyond. The people of Cambridgeshire can be assured that we remain there for them.”

Chris concluded: “We wish everyone a happy, healthy and, more importantly, safe new year and I thank everyone in our local communities for their continued support to our service and staff.”