Victims’ disgust at fire engine cut plan

The charred bed of Edith Stuart (below) which was set alight. Below: Len Curtis in Donna's Dream House after the fire and Mandy Leigh from Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary.

The charred bed of Edith Stuart (below) which was set alight. Below: Len Curtis in Donna's Dream House after the fire and Mandy Leigh from Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary.

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As devastated Len Curtis surveyed the charred remains of part of Donna’s Dream House, the only crumb of comfort was it could have been even worse.

On December 20, 2011, arsonists broke in and set a blaze which ripped through part of the Blackpool hospice and threatened to destroy the building beyond repair.

Edith Stuart

Edith Stuart

But it was thanks to the rapid response of firefighters that it wasn’t.

For Len and all those associated with the charity, the fire was an horrific experience – and their admiration for the swift actions of brave firefighters remains.

Which is why Len says he was “disgusted” when he discovered proposals to cut one of the resort’s fire engines.

Under proposals tabled by the fire service to cut £10m over the next three years, Blackpool’s Forest Gate could lose one of its two fire engines.

Len Curtis in Donna's Dream House after the fire.

Len Curtis in Donna's Dream House after the fire.

The proposed cuts at Blackpool and South Shore have been outlined in the LFRS emergency cover review, which states: “The current provision for emergency cover at Blackpool fire station is two whole-time fire engines and crews.

“We propose to reduce this to one fire engine. The Fylde coast, from Bispham to Lytham, has the biggest concentration of fire engines in the county.

“This reduction offers us an opportunity to save £1m by withdrawing a fire engine whilst being confident that response times can be maintained and risk levels protected.”

But Mr Curtis said: “The fire service are unsung heroes. We had a massive arson attack but it could’ve been a lot more damaging.

Mandy Leigh from Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary

Mandy Leigh from Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary

“I’m totally behind any campaign to get the cuts reversed. I was absolutely disgusted when I found out about these proposals and I feel quite strongly that the people making these decisions are so out of touch and they need to think very hard about the people this affects.”

Shirley Fish, from Poulton, lost her mother Edith Stuart, 96, after her bed was set alight while she slept at Cleveleys Park care home, despite the best efforts of the brave firefighters who tried to save her.

Mrs Fish, 77, said: “If you cut equipment and staff then there won’t be staff around to work through the situation after the fire, it’s a complete service that they give.”

An inquest into Mrs Stuart’s death recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, but no-one has ever been brought to justice over the fire, which happened in October 2010.

Mrs Fish added: “What are you going to do if there’s a large fire? You can say you’ll bring fire engines in from further afield if they’re required but time is of the essence and it’s terribly important.”

Firefighters valiantly fought to save the lives of 25 animals who died in a drunken arson attack on Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary, in St Annes, in March 2011. Easterleigh owner Mandy Leigh said: “We need as many engines as possible covering as many areas as possible.

“Why they cut the things that are needed I don’t know.”

Craig Southall, chairman of Blackpool Pubwatch, was general manager of the town’s iconic Yates’s Wine Lodge when it burned down in February 2009.

He said: “Any loss to any services is Blackpool is detrimental to the town. A fire engine in the service will save lives. This priority needs to be set by central Government and funding streams need to be focused on what we all need.”

Since 2010, the two fire engines at Forest Gate, Blackpool, have dealt with an average of 146 serious fires every year and an average of 1,043 of all severities of incident, although the number of fires last year were 125 and 884 respectively.

What has changed since 2009?

The fight to save Blackpool’s fire engine comes four years after Lancashire Fire and Rescue last proposed to scrap it.

On that occasion, the service wanted to replace it with a Rapid Intervention Unit, which would have been able to react more quickly to small fires – but would not have been as effective in a rescue situation.

But the service eventually decided to scrap that idea, saying it was not “appropriate” given the “challenges” faced in Blackpool.

The Gazette asked the service why the idea to scrap one of the engines had been resurrected now.

A spokesman said: “The situation has changed, not least because of the significant reduction in fires and the need to match resource levels to the level of demand.”

Official figures show the average number of incidents in Blackpool in 2012/13 (884) was below the typical average of more than 1,000. Serious fires were also below the average level.

There were more incidents (1,180) in Preston in 2012/13 than Blackpool. In terms of cover were a fire engine to be lost, the service says large incidents would see a concentration of engines and crews “not just from the Fylde, but from other parts of Lancashire”.

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