‘Lives at risk’ as controversial fire engine returns to Harrogate

The use of a controversial small fire engine caused a “significant” delay in putting out a fire in Harrogate last week, a union has claimed.

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The three-person “fire tactical response vehicle”, or TRV, had only recently been reintroduced in the town after North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service mothballed its fleet in the wake of reported reliability issues.

The vehicles – which use a smaller crew than regular fire engines – are also the subject of a long-running dispute between staff and management, with the union insisting that at least four firefighters must be present if breathing apparatus is needed.

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A TRV had been sent to the blaze in a six-storey commercial building on Cornwall Road, Harrogate, last Thursday, after an automatic alarm was sounded. But after discovering a fire on the fifth floor, the crew had to wait for reinforcements.

The union said: “This led to a significant delay extinguishing the fire. The incident commander was forced to wait for staff from Knaresborough station before committing staff to extinguish the fire.”

The crew log reported that two sets of breathing apparatus had eventually been used to help put out the fire and clear smoke from the building, which was empty.

It was the second time the use of a TRV in the area had caused a delay, the union said. In December 2017, firefighters had been forced to wait for up to 15 minutes for backup, as an elderly couple’s home in Killinghall burned. A member of the public said he had entered the house before firefighters could go in, to check that his parents had escaped.

Steve Howley, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in North Yorkshire, said the latest delay was “totally unacceptable” and that it was “only a matter of time until the reduced crew concept cost someone their life”.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “The Tactical Response Vehicles have been plagued with problems like this since their introduction.

“In an incident like the one in Harrogate, the crew is helpless – there’s not much they can do other than look busy, until the other crews arrive.”

Danny Myers, leader of the Labour group on York City Council, added: “Labour have repeatedly warned, campaigned and voted against the introduction of TRVs. If their use continues, then the risk of a tragic case is increased.”

The county has a fleet of six TRVs. One has been reintroduced in Scarborough, but units in Ripon, Malton, Northallerton and Tadcaster are still off the road.

North Yorkshire Fire Service said the TRVs were a “valuable asset” which would continue to be integral to its emergency service.

Julia Mulligan, the county’s fire commissioner, said: “I understand that the service is reviewing its procedures concerning the automatic response to high rise buildings, which I welcome.”