We need the best fire service in the world

It is vitally important that our area, more than other areas, has the best possible fire safety cover.

I introduced a debate in the House of Commons last week to discuss with the minister how Cleveland Fire Brigade has to be considered as a special and unique case.

There are two big factors which increase the risk of a major fire incident.

The first is having a large concentration of industry, and we in Teesside have certainly got that.

We have the largest concentration of petro-chemical engineering anywhere in Europe.

In Hartlepool we have the nuclear power station, and the prospect of another on the way.

There is a gas power station down the road at Wilton.

We have nationally significant infrastructure: not only the power stations, which provide the country with a sizeable proportion of its electricity, but the port is an important distribution centre for supermarkets and other businesses in the North of England and Scotland.

If there is a fire incident involving industry on Teesside, it is vital that the fire crews have the capacity and capability to deal with it.

I don’t wish to increase fear or scaremonger, but I think this important statistic shows more than anything else the importance of having the best possible fire service.

The biggest fire that this country has seen in the post-war period was the Buncefield disaster of 2005, when some oil tankers exploded and set on fire, devastating the local area and warranting the evacuation of many homes and businesses.

Hartlepool has a single oil storage facility which is 100 times bigger than Buncefield.

If we disregard all the other industry, a single incident in that facility could prove a threat to lives as well as nearby businesses.

The second big factor in determining how risky an area is to fire is the social and economic make-up.

Basically, the more improverished an area, the higher the risk of fire.

Given that some 40 per cent of all council wards in the Cleveland Fire Brigade area are classed as in the poorest 10 per cent wards in the entire country, it makes sense that Cleveland Fire Brigade have to contend with a higher number of fires than the national average.

I’m also ashamed to know that Cleveland Fire Brigade has to deal with the highest number of arsons and deliberate fires anywhere in the country: something like nine out of 10 fires are started deliberately.

The debate was my opportunity to tell the minister of our unique case, and determine that we should be seen as a special case in funding. Cleveland Fire Brigade has to see a cut of about a quarter of its budget over the next few years.

This is really stretching the ability of the fire brigade to combat the risks of fire.

I thought in responding to the debate the Lib Dem minister, Andrew Stunnell, was somewhat complacent and dismissive of Cleveland Fire’s situation.

He started his remarks by stating that reduction of the deficit was the number one priority. I would have thought that safeguarding and protecting lives from the risk of fire was more important than that.

You can’t take a risk with fire.

Given the area we live in, we have to have nothing less than the world’s best possible fire service.

With the cuts currently experienced by Cleveland Fire, I fear that we may soon not have that.