House-fire victims warn of service cuts danger

FAMILIES whose homes were destroyed by fire are demanding a rethink on proposals which would see a reduction in Huntingdonshire’s fire cover.

FAMILIES whose homes were destroyed by fire are demanding a rethink on proposals which would see a reduction in Huntingdonshire’s fire cover.

As reported by The Hunts Post last week, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is to start a series of feasibility studies which could impact in firefighters jobs.

One of the studies will look at cutting St Neots fire station’s full time crew and replacing it with a retained service. Another will look at replacing Huntingdon’s full time night crew with an on demand service.

The proposals - aimed at saving the fire service �2.5million - have been criticised by those who have seen the work of firefighters up close.

The Webb family of Parker Road, Eynesbury, lost almost everything they owned in a house fire on January 30 of this year.

They were on a shopping trip in Biggleswade when their house caught fire.

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Neighbours alerted the family - and the fire service - and they returned to see flames rip through the upstairs of the house, engulfing the whole property in black smoke.

Father-of-two Lee Webb, 34, said: “It took four fire engines and 20 firefighters to tackle the blaze at our house. It really makes you realise how important the fire service is.”

He added: “The fire crews got here within eight minutes of being called. If they hadn’t been so quick, things could have been a lot worse.

“It’s very worrying to think what may happen if the station isn’t manned [full time].”

Lesley and John Sims lost 80 per cent of their belongings when a fire started in the kitchen at their Hemingford Grey home during a night in December last year.

Despite the smoke and water damage, crews managed to contain the fire, save the downstairs and recover some of the couple’s treasured personal possessions.

Without that help, Mrs Sims believes her family home would have burned to the ground and she and her husband would have lost everything from their 46 years of marriage.

“What would have happened to us that night if it had not been for the fire service?” she said.

“The smoke alarms didn’t go off until my husband opened the kitchen door. If he had not woken up when he did, there’s a chance we would not have got out.

“We were lucky to get out, but the house could have burned down and we would have been left with nothing.”

Given her experience, Mrs Sims believes that cuts to the front line should be the last resort as CFRS looks for savings.

“When you need the fire brigade, my God you need them,” she said.

“Surely cuts could be made that won’t endanger lives and property. In my mind they shouldn’t be looking at cutting fire cover, they should be looking at the high salaries of the managers.”

The Webb family is slowly rebuilding their lives - thanks in part to the overwhelming support of the Eynesbury community.

“People have been unbelievable,” said Mr Webb. “The insurance company got us sorted out with somewhere temporary to live just around the corner from the old house.

“Friends and neighbours have given us everything from a three-piece-suite to a small TV for the kids. Even the kids’ primary school gave us a donation – they called it the Webb Fire Fund.”

He added: “We’re grateful for all the support people have shown us, it’s been incredible.”