Fringe Box



Firefighter Claimed Lack of Food and Drink During Six-Day Chobham Common Wildfire

Published on: 17 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 19 Sep, 2020

Firefighters tackling the Chobham Common fire

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A Surrey firefighter has said crews battling Chobham Common wildfire last month would have been “falling like flies” without food and drink donated by kind people. At one stage, Chobham Tesco and Chobham Co-op had set up collection points for the donations.

He claimed some colleagues worked for up to 15 hours at a stretch during the six-day blaze before they were relieved by other crews. Even outside the 500-acre expanse of fire temperatures tipped 30C.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service said they did provide welfare, but admitted more needed to be done to get rations right on scene.

At the time, the firefighter sent an email to County Cllr Paul Deach (Con, Mytchett & Deepcut), saying: “Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has no welfare provisions to offer firefighters breaks from the fire-front as well as refreshments.

“As you can imagine, in the harsh conditions we have experienced over the past few days, the firefighters were spending between 10 and 15 hours at the incident. Usually there would be relief crews sent to take over after four to five hours. They are exhausted and need sustenance.”

His email was read out on September 16 to the county council’s Communities, Environment and Highways select committee, who had just been told of the success of Phase One of the SFRS Making Surrey Safer plan.

Cllr Deach said: “My primary concern is firefighter welfare. As you can imagine that presented quite a lot of concern when I read that and I’m sure members of the public will be equally concerned.”

Steve Owen-Hughes Surrey Chief Fire Officer.

He asked chief fire officer Steve Owen-Hughes for an assurance they would review their welfare provision. The CFO said they already reviewed that after every incident and added that he had letters from other fire and rescue services, deployed from elsewhere, saying “the welfare that they received was very good and they felt they were very well looked after”.

The CFO said operational policies did not refer to being relieved after four hours. “Sometimes, on a very rare occasion, all of us have to dig in a bit deeper and work that little bit harder, and you will have seen those tremendous wildfires over in California where some firefighters are away from home and deployed for a long, long time. Luckily, we don’t have that here very often.”

The firefighter’s email complaint continued: “Food and water provisions are in the form of water bottles on the appliances, which obviously get very hot in these conditions and hot packs which offer no real nutritional value. If it wasn’t for the donations the firefighters would be falling like flies.”

Mr Owen-Hughes responded: “What we’ve realised is that in a large incident like this one spread over a large area for a long duration, it’s not the fact that we can’t get the welfare to the assembly point, it’s the last half-mile.

“We’ve made plans to look at how we do that with new 4-by-4 vehicles to get them over that half-mile. We do have a good welfare provision. We have contracts with rapid relief that were in place right from the beginning of that major incident.

“All our officers carry credit cards which allow them to access food and other welfare issues as well.”

Cllr Mike Goodman (Con, Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham), said: “We had 40 appliances there and I want to thank you from all my residents for the professional way with which you dealt with what was a really serious incident. I think you did a fantastic job.”

See also: Fire Chiefs Back Their Making Surrey Safer Plan But FBU Fighting Changes

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