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Firefighters say 'sorry' as station shut while Buckfastleigh hit by flood

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

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FIREFIGHTERS in Buckfastleigh have apologised to the town for not being able to help during recent flooding.

More than two dozen properties in and around Station Road were flooded in November in what residents described as the worst such incident in living memory.

It was so serious that the next day Prime Minister David Cameron made an unexpected visit to speak to residents who had been affected.

He congratulated neighbours, shop workers and councillors who all rushed to help residents by building sandbag defences, deal with blocked culverts, drains and fallen trees, and rescuing possessions from private homes.

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But on a weekend of flooding across the region fire bosses took the decision to hold the on-call crew in reserve — in case there were more serious incidents elsewhere.

In the event there was no call out for the Buckfastleigh crew and while people in the town rallied to protect homes the fire station doors remained shut.

The retained firefighters were so frustrated with the situation that they have issued an apology through the town council.

Minutes from the meeting in December reveal: "Cllr [Jimmy] Castle also conveyed apologies from the Buckfastleigh fire brigade to explain that the firefighters were told by the control centre not to leave the station on that particular weekend and only to respond to life-threatening emergencies such as a fire.

"Cllr [Stuart] Barker confirmed that this issue will now be re-examined so that the fire crew can at least provide manpower and be called back to the station if required for such an emergency."

One resident in Station Road, who did not want to be named, said the decision of fire bosses was 'outrageous'.

Jane Elliott, who runs the Curio shop nearby, said people did not blame the local firefighters.

"We managed incredibly well but there was a feeling that we were left to our own devices," she said.

MP Mel Stride paid tribute to the people of Buckfastleigh, 'who endured some of the worst flooding the country has seen recently'.

He said: "One of the things that struck me was that, although it was an absolute tragedy, particularly for those affected, it was also an opportunity for the community to come together, and they did so magnificently."

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has defended its decision.

It said: "During the weather event of November 21 to 25,we received exceptionally high volumes of calls for flooding and rescues from water.

"While the fire service has no statutory responsibility for flooding, Devon and Somerset's crews were called out to 1,357 incidents of which 869 were flooding incidents.

"They rescued 218 people from vehicles and properties affected by flood water.

"On a number of occasions, throughout that period, the number of calls, particularly those where rescues were required was extremely high.

"At those times the service prioritised it's attendance to incidents where lives were at risk and restricted it's attendance to incidents involving property but no life risk.

"These operational command decisions were taken to ensure the public received the most appropriate service in unusual and very difficult circumstances."

Buckfastleigh Town Council will be holding an emergency planning working party meeting on Wednesday, February 6, which will be open to the public. It will be an opportunity to exchange ideas to deal with future incidents.

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