Fire engines wrangle set to leave brigade out of pocket by £3.5m

Paul Whitehouse

A FLEET of four new fire engines will have left a Yorkshire fire brigade around 3.5m out of pocket when they finally enter service almost three years late.

The combined aerial rescue platforms, or CARPS, are designed to do the job of a normal fire engine and the lorries which carry large extending ladders, meaning South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service can cut the size of its vehicle fleet and the number of firefighters needed to crew them.

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But the four appliances ended up too heavy to be used on the road and the firm which built them went out of business before changes could be made to make them roadworthy.

That resulted in a legal wrangle with administrators which caused delays, because although the fire service had paid most of the cost the organisation did not have legal possession of the vehicles until a final payment figure had been agreed.

The vehicles are now in the final stages of being modified by a firm in Holland.

All four are expected to go into service between the New Year and April 2011, rather than early 2008 as originally expected.

The bill for the lorries, including repairs and other costs, is now expected to total 2.7m rather than the 2.1m initially budgeted for.

But the major additional cost is that since April 2008 the service has had to employ 36 more firefighters than it had intended and that created an additional bill of 1m a year.

That means the delays will have left the service with costs of around 3.5m more than it would have faced had the CARPs been available and gone into service as anticipated.

The delay has meant the brigade has had to keep four conventional fire engines in service longer than expected, but they are owned by the brigade so there have been no significant extra costs.

Three “aerial ladders”, used for rescues from high buildings or fighting major fires, have also had to be kept in service but they are on a lease and would have been retained as “spare” appliances in any circumstances because there would have been no benefit in sending them back early.

A brigade spokesman said: “The CARPs will fulfil exactly the role intended; the modifications don’t affect that.

“For the type of incident they will be mobilised to, our minimum response is two fire engines riding a minimum of nine firefighters.

“The CARP would be the second, riding four and the first riding five,” he said.

When SYFRS finally acquired the CARPs they paid around 1.9m rather than the 2.1 originally agreed, but there were also legal fees and a bill for modifications expected to exceed 620,000 Euros.

In addition, staff have had to make trips to Holland to check on progress at a cost of around 4,000 and the cost of fuel and sea crossings for getting the machines there and back will amount to a similar sum.

Firefighters are expected to start training on the first CARP when it is delivered later this year, with all four due to be in service before the end of the financial year.

Critics believe an attempt to combine a conventional fire engine with large high-rise ladders is a flawed concept. Attempts by some other brigades use them have resulted in problems.

The Fire Brigades Union in South Yorkshire has been fiercely critical of the decision to use CARPs.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is currently looking for ways to make large savings because senior managers are expecting large budget cuts from the Government.