AN appeal has been launched for more retained firefighters after concerns about the lack of coverage in Huntingdonshire.

St Ives and Ramsey stations have particularly struggled to crew fire engines, with St Ives even being left with no fire engines from 9am to midnight on Saturday, November 17.

"This is because there were insufficient firefighters available in the area at that time," assistant chief fire officer Neil Newberry said. "However, we were aware of this and arrangements were in place to notify the next nearest fire engine if an emergency had occurred in this area."

Councillor Geoff Heathcock, a member of the Cambridgeshire Fire Authority who raised the concerns, believes: "It could be a tragedy that involves staff as well as the public.

"If there are not enough retained firefighters to crew two vehicles at each fire station there is a clear risk to the protection of the public.

"These are two large communities with significant populations that are growing.

"If anything significant were to happen, you would be looking at pulling in crews from a much further distance away.

"That has safety issues in relation to the amount of time people have to wait for a fire engine to arrive but also protecting our own crews if they are waiting for back up to arrive."

St Ives currently has 13 on-call firefighters, whereas Ramsey has 11. Both fire stations have two fire engines, which require a crew of five people each.

"This means that it's difficult to maintain cover if people are on holiday, unwell or at their main job," Mr Newberry said.

"As society has changed, fire services nationally are finding it increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to commit to becoming on-call firefighters.

"This is because people now want more leisure time to spend with families. In addition, due to the current economic climate, employers are reluctant to allow their staff to attend emergency calls during working hours.

"Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has been doing all it can to encourage more people to become on-call firefighters, including speeding up the recruitment process, introducing an electronic system to monitor the availability of firefighters, lowering the minimum number of hours that a person can be on-call per week and introducing a roster programme which tells us exactly how many on-call firefighters it has on standby."

Cllr Heathcock warned: "If more people don't come forward, we are not going to have a fire service worthy of the name in those areas."

INFORMATION: To find out more about volunteering as a retained firefighter visit www.cambsfire.gov.uk/recruitment.php