NEARLY 50 more retained firefighters are needed in Huntingdonshire to help Cambridgeshire Fire Service arrive at emergencies on time, according to officials.

The figures, released to The Hunts Post through the Freedom of Information Act, show that 80 per cent of part-time firefighters are not getting to fire stations within five minutes during day shifts in 2008-2010, leading to half of the service's engines missing availability targets in 2010.

The region's fire engines were unavailable during the day shift, 8am to 5pm, for an average of 25.86 per cent of the time, more than double the service's threshold of 10 per cent. Ramsey and St Ives' second engines the worst affected, being unavailable 45.1 and 36.1 per cent of the time respectively.

They also showed that 70 per cent were arriving at their stations nearly a minute later than the five minute threshold during the evening and one and a half minutes late during the night.

In Huntingdonshire, 99 retained firefighters, who live or work within five minutes from a station, each provide 90-120 hours of cover a week, but officials say they need 43 more to meet their targets.

Kevin Napier, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Cambridgeshire, said that lives were at risk from the shortage of retained officers. "The siuation is not alien to us. In the last year, we have had as many as 10-18 fire engines not available in Cambridgeshire at any one time and we are disappointed to be still in this position," he said.

"Wholetime firefighters are heavily reliant on retained firefighters and I am very sympathetic with them because it's a massive commitment and if they're not available, or far away, then firefighters' lives are also at risk."

Mr Napier blamed the changing times for the shortage of retained officers, saying the region's towns where commuters form a great percentage of residents were now "ghost towns" and that businesses are less likely to let their employees leave work for free in the economic climate.

A Cambridgeshire Fire spokesman said there are enough retained firefighters at present but they would like 43 more. She also said that traffic and road systems causing delays meaning officers were missing target times.

Mr Napier added: "When you have a struggling retained service, you can't make the proposed cuts to wholetime staff and have a resilient fire service when this clearly demonstrates firefighters don't sufficient cover."

INFORMATION: To hear about becoming a retained firefighter, call 01480 444500 or visit www.cambsfire.gov.uk/recruitment