A STAFF rostering system designed to improve Cambridgeshire’s unreliable retained fire cover has been approved.

Up to eight pumps are regularly unavailable to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service - peaking at 18 - because managers are not able to confirm that a full crew will attend the station in time, assistant chief fire officer Neil Newberry told the fire authority on Thursday.

A new system of rostering would allow stations to declare the availability of their pumps, ensuring the service knew exactly how many appliances were available at any time. The system has already been successfully trialled in Huntingdon and Ramsey.

Stations with low staff numbers could declare their pump "off the run" at certain times, while the better-staffed stations would benefit by ensuring that all firefighters got an equal level of operational experience and training - a measure that would improve staff morale.

Mr Newberry said: "We are just as keen to roster the pump off the run as we are on the run. That way we will know what we have available to us."

Currently all firefighters are alerted when a call comes in, with the first to arrive at the station crewing the appliance.

The service has lost about 30 retained staff in the past year - possibly because of the level of commitment required - and the new system will help to identify areas where recruitment is needed.

"If the retained service is going to survive, we need to see the number of hours [retained firefighters] give reduced," said Mr Newberry.

A more efficient recruitment and training process means retained firefighters can be operational within six months, rather than the year or more that it took previously.

However, fire authority members raised concerns that the system would not be universally welcomed by firefighters.

Cllr Kevin Reynolds said he had discussed the proposals with firefighters and feared the initiative "will not at all be received well".

Chief fire officer Graham Stagg said the scheme's success would be monitored, and could be amended if necessary.

Members approved the plans, and the rostering system is due to be rolled out from July 2012.