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Local fire crew saved our home, say couple

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: February 18, 2013

The Hemerdon Heights home where a fire started in an upstairs immersion heater

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A couple whose house was devastated in a blaze have attacked plans to remove full-time crews from a nearby fire station.

George and Sandra Black said that without firefighters on standby in Plympton they would have lost their home.

The fire brigade is considering replacing full-time crews at the Glen Road base with retained firefighters – part-timers who can take up to seven and a half minutes to get to the station when there is an emergency call-out.

Full-time firefighters took only two and a half minutes to reach the fire in Hemerdon Heights, only half a mile from the station.

And the next crew to arrive, from the Crownhill station, arrived four or five minutes after them.

Mr and Mrs Black and their two children have been left in emergency accommodation following the fire on Saturday afternoon.

A faulty immersion heater is thought to have sparked a fierce blaze in an airing cupboard, which badly damaged the couple’s bedroom.

Their house of 12 years is now uninhabitable.

Mr Black said: “The crew from Plympton were fantastic, they saved the house. They are just around the corner and did not seem to take very long to get here.

“The second crew came from the other side of Plymouth. If we had had to wait for them we would not have had a house left.”

The couple were downstairs in the semi when their smoke detector sounded and they found thick smoke and flame coming from an upstairs airing cupboard.

Mr Black said: “The fire was terrifying, there is no other word. I attempted to put it out while the wife was on the phone to the fire brigade, but I realised it was far beyond what I could do.

“There was no time to save anything, we just had to get out.”

The family have been put in emergency accommodation and are waiting for insurance company assessors to look at the home today.

Mr Black said they had lost clothes and bedding but worse of all family photo albums.

Fire Brigades union secretary Trevor French said the blaze showed the folly of the planned crew changes.

He said: “It is not rocket science. The Plympton crew were there within two and half minutes and the Crownhill crew were there four or five minutes later.

“Without the Plympton crew the damage would have been a lot worse.”

The union has already said that the cuts proposed by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service were “savage” and would cost lives.

Under the plans, the Plympton and Plymstock stations would be left with retained crews.

The proposals are among a range of potential cuts which are out for public consultation in a bid to fill a £5.5 million shortfall in the brigade’s budget

The brigade’s deputy chief fire officer Neil Gibbins said: “When the crews arrived at this incident, a smoke alarm had activated and everyone was safely outside.

“This incident shows the importance of having working smoke alarms in your home, as they provide a vital early warning of fire.

“We will always respond to fires when they happen, but are investing more in our work with the community to provide people with advice on how to keep safe in their homes.”

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