Fire service covering Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire is training as many apprentices as it can to fill firefighter vacancies

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The fire service covering Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire has come to a special arrangement to train more apprentices than usual to keep up the number of its front-line officers.

Apprentices are seen as so important to the future of Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service that they are spending £898,767 in this financial year on supporting some 39 trainee firefighters through their two year training programmes.

Milton Keynes Lib Dem leader Douglas McCall (Newport Pagnell South) asked at Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting o Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority whether the service has a recruitment problem.

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Mark Hemming, the director of finance and assets, reported that there is currently a shortage of whole-time and on-call fire-fighters. But they have adopted a number of strategies to deal with it.

The fire brigade HQ in AylesburyThe fire brigade HQ in Aylesbury
The fire brigade HQ in Aylesbury

Mr Hemming said that they are temporarily increasing the number of trainees they are sending to the Fire Service College, in Gloucestershire, from 16 to 20 to get more employees in the pipeline.

The fire service is currently spending a quarter of a million pounds less than expected on its whole-time fire fighters because it has fewer than it expected to have.

The meeting in Aylesbury heard that they have been losing trained firefighters to the capital, where they receive a pay package boosted by London Weighting. And worse, this has recently been increased by seven per cent and backdated for two years.

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Mr Hemming said in some parts of the south of Buckinghamshire, the cost of living in some towns was higher than in the London boroughs. This means that keeping hold of its trained firefighters is an important issue for them to tackle.

Mick Osborne, the deputy chief fire officer, told the meeting that they have also been successful in attracting 26 “expressions of interest” from firefighters who currently work for other services. They are also adopting a more flexible system of on-call firefighters who can respond locally.

Dave Norris, the head of service delivery, added that they are also making connections with the military, so that ex-service men and women can be attracted into firefighting.

The committee noted a report that, overall, the fire service is currently heading for an underspend of £161,000 on its revenue budget of £30.332 million.