Fire Authority Member Cllr Nethsingha Denies Refusal to Help With Floods is Policy Change


Sunday, February 23rd, 2014. 12:40pm

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, a member of Cambridgeshire’s Fire Authority, and one of those responsible for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue service’s policies, has denied that the service’s statement, made on the 15th of February 2014, saying it will not assist with flooded properties unless there is a risk to life, amounts to a policy change.

Cllr Nethsingha replied to a tweet I wrote via email to say:

Dear Richard,
You asked me if the Fire Authority had changed their policy on helping with flooding issues, following a Fire Authority tweet a week or so ago. Having investigated this, as far as I can discover the answer is that there has not been a change of policy. The policy outlined in the tweet is not a change, but is what has been the case for sometime. I don’t think the tweet was well phrased.
Sorry for the delay in answering your question.
Lucy Nethsingha

I don’t know what Cllr Nethsingha’s idea of “some time” is but when homes on Riverside in Cambridge have been flooded while I’ve been living in Cambridge I’ve seen the fire service in attendence pumping water into the river from behind the houses. The fire service’s website records that it provided such assistance as recently as July 2012:

Flooding – Cambridge

14 July 2012, 12.25pm

One crew from Cambridge was called to flooding at Riverside in Cambridge.

Firefighters arrived and discovered flooding from a fell water drain, which was affecting six homes.

The water levels were high enough for crews to use a light portable pump to move the water.

They returned to their fire station by 1pm.

Source

In August 2012 the fire service assisted many properties in Cambridge following very heavy rain:

Flooding – Multiple locations – Cambridge 25 August 2012, 3.45pm

From approximately 3.45pm on Saturday (25) crews in Cambridge were called to almost 40 flooding incidents due to extremely heavy rain. At most of these incidents firefighters took no action due to a number of factors – for example not enough water for pumps to work effectively, or nowhere to pump water out where it would not cause issues elsewhere. Below is a list of the incidents at which action was taken:

  • 3.48pm – Jamie’s Italian Restaurant at The Guildhall – flooding in basement involving electrics. Crews pumped out the water and left the scene at around 5.40pm.
  • 6.30pm – Brunswick Road – Two crews attended and inspected four properties. Crews used a light portable pump to remove water from three of the properties and left the scene at around 7.50pm.
  • 6.59pm – Jamie’s Italian Restaurant at The Guildhall – we were called back as the basement had flooded again. Crews pumped out the water using a pump and a jet.
  • 8.53pm – Grand Arcade on St Tibbs Road – One crew attended and pumped out water from the basement. Crews left the scene at around 11.10pm

Source

In none of these incidents is there any suggestion that life was at risk.

The Fire Service’s website has not been updated to reflect the new policy position espoused in the tweet. It still outlines the previous policy position which was:

The fire service may not always be able to help in the event of a flood. A fire crew will not automatically be sent. An officer will attend to assess the situation and if they feel the fire service can assist, they will call for a fire crew. The officer may not attend straight away though as all calls are prioritised.

Source

My view is that policy appears reasonable and I would have liked to have seen it retained.

The fire service has earlier this year assisted a property in Cambridge where there has been a burst pipe. I can understand that the fire service may need to try and deter inappropriate calls needs to ensure they’re not people’s first call for any small scale flooding where a plumber, or Cambridge Water, would be a more appropriate first call.

I don’t want to see the fire service’s leaders, like Lucy Nethsingha, preventing the service from assisting those who could benefit greatly from their help. If those leading the service are unaware of the policy changes they are responsible for I think that is even more concerning.

I’ve previously suggested that it would be reasonable in my view for someone living on a houseboat which has started leaking to call the Fire Service for help.

It’s possible that despite employing a team of press officers the fire service’s tweet misrepresented their policy. I note though that fire authority member Cllr Nethsingha’s investigation did not uncover that to be the case; rather she merely claimed the tweet was a statement of established policy.

I think the fire service ought at least make clear, in a consistent manner, what their policy actually is.

Response via Twitter

5 comments/updates on “Fire Authority Member Cllr Nethsingha Denies Refusal to Help With Floods is Policy Change

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Nethsinga has tweeted:

    If an incident is judged “urgent” is irrelevant. According to the statement made which was:

    the fire service will not be able to assist with flooded gardens, properties, cars etc unless there is a risk to life.

    The criteria there was “risk to life”; not “urgent”.

    If the policy hasn’t changed in fifteen years; what has changed? Have staff been ignoring the policy for most of the last fifteen years and have they only recently decided to draw attention to it. The key question is how, if at all, is the stated policy, which appears new, affecting the response people get when they seek help.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge MP Julian Huppert has signed an Early Day Motion noting that there is:

    currently no statutory duty in England and Wales exists upon the Fire Service to attend flooding incidents, thereby restricting the role they might play in planning effectively to minimise damage, injury and death which may occur in any emergency; and calls on the Government to introduce forthwith a duty on the service, replicating that laid down in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    http://www.edms.org.uk/2013-14/952.htm?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Fire Service has taken a similar line in respect of high winds:

    I think the Fire Service should help where it can. Perhaps if the Police and Crime commissioner takes on responsibility for the fire service this is something they can give clear leadership on and ensure the Fire Service serves the public.

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