New £2.7m fire fleet plagued by technical problems

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A MULTI-MILLION pound fleet of four new fire engines have been out of action more than 150 times in their first eight months of service because of mechanical alerts, it has emerged.

The troubled Combined Aerial Rescue Pumps, introduced five years late by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, have also been used for only limited duties since October last year because of safety concerns.

The £2.7m fleet was designed cut costs by combining the functions of normal fire trucks and the high-rise platforms sometimes needed to reach tall buildings in the same vehicle.

That should have saved money by reducing the vehicle fleet and subsequently allowing managers to cut jobs. But they were too heavy to use by the time they had been constructed and the manufacturer went out of business, leaving the service to pick up a bill of more than £700,000 to reduce their weight.

They were eventually brought into service in 2010, but figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post show they were unavailable on at least 150 occasions between March and mid-December after faults were logged by crews.

One was also involved in what the Fire Brigades Union called a “catastrophic event” where the hydraulic arm used to support a high-rise cage for firefighters became stuck in the extended position and then crashed to the ground as an attempt was made to lower it.

Damage was so severe the machine had to be sent to Holland for repairs and the Fire Brigades Union refused to use that equipment on the other vehicles, meaning old extending platform trucks had to be brought back into service.

A safety report by independent engineers has just been completed for the fire service and has found no evidence of mechanical failure and brigade managers are now expected to request FBU members start to use the CARPs high-rise equipment again. The brigade said in a statement that an independent report “found no evidence of any mechanical error.

“To reassure the FBU, we asked for a more detailed investigation to take place. This, too, has found no evidence of any mechanical fault. We are therefore confident our CARP appliances will soon be available with full functionality”

However, the FBU is highly sceptical of the suitability of the CARPs for the dual role.

The union says that they were originally intended to have a crew of six but ended up with only four on board as a result of weight-saving work.

More than 80 per cent of breakdowns have been resolved within two hours, according to the brigade, and reported faults include equipment breakages, suspension problems, fluid leaks and power failures alongside expected issues such as punctures.

The brigade said most incidents involved “relatively minor” faults, with on other occasions no fault being discovered.

FBU spokesman John Gilliver said: “We still don’t think they are safe. A lot of things have happened which are unexplained, even though the people using them are experienced firefighters.

“Our managers have been saying they want to build confidence in using these, but they are not fit for purpose.

“It is similar to the Emperor’s clothes. They keep trying to convince themselves they are fantastic vehicles and value for money. In reality they are not,” he said.

Mr Gilliver said it was not uncommon for two CARPs to be out of action in the county at one time, reducing the county’s capability for dealing with emergencies needing high-rise access.

In addition to the extra cost for modifications, delays in bringing the CARPs into service meant that expected savings on staffing costs did not materialise when expected, pushing the “real” cost to the brigade much higher.