ROLLING out smaller fire engines in Somerset will not put residents at risk, the fire authority has claimed.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is reviewing the number of fire stations and the kinds of vehicles it operates as it tries to save £7.7M over the next three years.

As part of its economy drive, smaller rapid response vehicles are initially being rolled out to four areas across its service area, including Porlock in west Somerset.

Tony Morris, a retired firefighter based in Devon, has claimed that the changes could put people at risk, with the vehicles’ ladders being unable to reach second-floor windows and not carrying all the vital equipment that could be needed.

The fire service has responded that additional resources will be deployed to fires as needed, and that the public will be consulted over any plans to close stations or reduce the number of firefighters in their area.

The smaller fire engines – known as Rapid Intervention Vehicles or RIVs – are initially being rolled out to Dartmouth, Porlock, Princetown and Tiverton.

The fire service has said that this is being done to replace larger vehicles – known as Medium Rescue Pumps or MRPs – which were reaching the end of their service life.

A spokesman said: “The exact number of vehicles we roll out will be dependent on an ongoing evaluation of the initial RIVs when they have become operational.

“Many will be deployed in rural areas as they match the risks in those areas, but there may also be benefits to deploying them in some urban environments.

“The RIVs have a number of benefits, including their ability to manoeuvre around rural roads quickly and safely. Our operational staff were involved in the design and testing of the RIVs, and feedback from them has been excellent.”

Each RIV costs £140,000 – which is cheaper than the equivalent MRP, and can carry the same number of firefighters, according to the fire service.

But Mr Morris, who has 32 years’ experience in fire services across the UK, believes that rolling out RIVs across Devon and Somerset will put residents at risk.

He said: “Far from ground breaking, they are similar to vehicles used in remote Scottish communities for many years. In Scotland they are used in sparsely populated areas that have never had a full sized fire engine, and where there are very few incidents.

“By contrast, Devon and Somerset plans to remove 45 full-sized, well- equipped fire engines and replace them with these inferior vehicles.”

“Even if they could arrive a bit quicker, if they don’t have long enough ladders, the right equipment, enough water and enough firefighters, then the public and firefighters are at much greater risk.”

Mr Morris has claimed that the fire service’s 121 MRPs will be reduced to just 37 such vehicles, with 39 Light Rescue Pumps (LRPs) and 45 RIVs making up the remainder of its vehicle fleet.

This, he asserts, will leave some communities relying on ill-equipped firefighters in the event of a fire.

He said: “Devon and Somerset have ignored the reality that the risk to people trapped by fire or in a wrecked car is exactly the same, no matter where they are.

“I don’t believe that people in some areas of Devon and Somerset should have less effective protection, just because emergencies occur less frequently in their area.

“A life on Exmoor or Dartmoor is just as valuable as a life in Exeter, Plymouth or Taunton.”

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said that its focus was on keeping the public safe, and that RIVs would not be expected to tackle serious fires on their own.

A spokesman said: “Our focus is on the safety of firefighters and the public and increasing awareness of fire safety in society. We believe that using different types of fire appliances does not mean a reduction in fire cover.

“The RIVs will carry a 5.4-metre triple extension ladder which can reach the first floor. In the event of a longer ladder or other specialist equipment being required, fire control will send those additional resources at the same time that they send a RIV, which may be the closest available appliance.

“The RIVs carry 92 per cent of the equipment carried on an LRP and some of the equipment it carries will depend on the risks identified in the area it is based and the types of incidents they are likely to attend.

“Should additional or specialist equipment be required, it will either be ordered automatically or requested and be brought to the scene by an additional fire appliance, as it is now.

“In addition, due to our narrow roads and seasonal busy road networks in some cases an RIV will enable a quicker initial response by firefighters than a traditional MRP.”

The fire service would not confirm how many RIVs would be rolled out over the next three years, but said that those areas affected would be consulted before any final decision was taken.

The spokesman added: “The locations of the RIVs, and the equipment they carry, have been decided based on the risks that have been identified for that area and the type of previous incidents attended.

“Further locations have also been identified to have RIVs in the near future and we will confirm the next locations when they have been agreed and the firefighters at the fire stations involved have been informed.

“We are currently reviewing our station locations, shift patterns and crewing models to ensure we have the correct resources in the right places, based on risk. If there were plans to make significant changes to a fire station there would be public consultation.

“No firefighter positions will be cut as a direct result of the introduction of RIVs. In fact, we are continually looking for additional on-call firefighters at a number of fire stations across Devon and Somerset.”