School arson link up saves fire service £500,000

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A ground breaking scheme which sees firefighters working in schools in areas known to be arson hotspots has saved an estimated £500,000 in call outs.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s school liaison officer project sees firefighters work one day a week for a full academic year in specially selected schools in parts of the county known to be trouble areas for arson.

Shafton and Dearne in Barnsley have both seen decreases in small, deliberate blazes, like grass and bin fires, since firefighters started working with two secondary schools in the areas. The scheme uses firefighters who live and work locally to provide a positive role model to pupils and deter them from starting fires.

Firefighters use their specialist knowledge in subjects such as maths, chemistry and physical education in the scheme, which is funded by jointly be the fire service and the participating schools.

Arson reduction officer Simon Brookes, said: “This initiative genuinely benefits everyone. The school gets worthwhile learning support from a trusted, professional member of the local community, pupils get advice from someone they look up to and respect, while we see a reduction in the number of unnecessary fires we get called to respond to.

“We’ve proven that this scheme can benefit young people and reduce fires, so we’re really keen for more schools in the area to use us in this way.”

Since the scheme was introduced, the number of small, deliberate fires in Shafton has dropped from an average of 17 a month to seven. In Dearne, the figure has dropped from 10 to just two.

The fire service, which puts the price of each small fire like this at £2,500, believes it has saved almost £500,000 from the reduction in call outs.

Meanwhile, the fire service revealed it rescued 27 children from locked cars in the last year.

Chief fire officer James Courtney said “special service” incidents like these were important to highlight amid Government cuts and fire reduction success.

He said: “I am concerned that some may see our success in reducing house fires by a third in the last ten years and assume it is easy to make a disproportionate level of cuts to our service.

“It’s easy to forget the vast range of incidents our firefighters are called to deal with and wonder which other service could help if our resources aren’t available.”