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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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First of Carlisle's new fire stations ready for action

Firefighters have moved into the first of two new stations being built in Carlisle as part of a £48 million deal.

Carlisle fire station photo
The new Carlisle West fire station

The Carlisle West Community Fire Station is now fully operational, with a crew there around the clock.

It is the first part of landmark changes to the way Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service operates in Carlisle.

And it has seen crews move away from their ageing Rickergate station to new purpose-built bases.

As well as the Carlisle West station, off Brookside in Raffles, a district headquarters is also being built on the site of the former ITV Border studios at Durranhill.

Work on the second, bigger, site is due for completion within the next couple of months. Firefighters to be stationed there will remain at Rickergate until that base is opened.

Crews now based in the west of the city are getting used to their new surroundings. As well as a building kitted out with more modern technology, it is also hoped that the wider spread of staff will improve response times as the city grows.

Station manager Stuart Adams is in charge of Carlisle West, as well as retained stations at Brampton and Alston.

He said: “There are a lot of memories from the Rickergate station but we all understand that it is no longer fit for purpose.”

Watch manager Bruce Wilson added: “Everyone appreciates that this is a fantastic facility. It has all mod-cons and is a better working environment, which is good for morale.”

As part of the new fire cover arrangements, Carlisle’s four fire watches have been split in two. One engine and its five-strong crew will now be based in the west of the city.

The other six in another engine will be at Durranhill following its completion, where specialist equipment including the aerial platform and major rescue vehicle will also be based.

Fire chiefs hope the change will mean they can cover the city better.

The crew closest to any callout at any time will be the one dispatched to the emergency. For those where two fire engines are demanded, they will meet at the scene.

Opening of the western base is timely as the number of houses in the area continues to grow, with more major developments in the pipeline, and follows the opening of the city’s new bypass.

Focus on the new bases has been dictated by demands on the fire service - with the ability to reach house fires the priority.

Mr Wilson said: “Because Carlisle is getting bigger, we need to be able to respond from each side of the city.

“The biggest life risk is from domestic dwellings.”

The new station features an appliance bay, community rooms, kitchen, office, quiet and rest areas. But even with advances in technology, crews still slide down a pole from the first floor to their tender.

Among the firefighters who has made the switch west is White Watch crew manager Anthony Rooney, who had been based at Rickergate for 16 years.

He said: “It’s nice to be in a new building. You can’t deny that the building in the centre of town is getting old but you do get attached to it.

“The first night in here I had to pinch myself that I was at work, the surroundings were so nice.”

Although not based on the same site, crews at each side of the city will continue to work together, particularly on training, to prepare for callouts. Durranhill will have modern training facilities.

Part of the focus of the firefighters in their new patches will be to continue their community work, including fire safety checks and fitting smoke alarms.

Construction of the Carlisle stations is part of a north west-wide £48m private finance initiative (PFI) deal for 16 new sites across the region, including five in Cumbria. One has already opened at Patterdale while a new headquarters for the county’s service is under construction at Penrith, off Kemplay Bank roundabout.

The PFI deal involves all the stations being built by Balfour Beatty – the same firm involved in the building of Carlisle’s new western bypass – with Mansell and Carlisle company Border Construction. The majority of sub-contractors used on the sites have been from Cumbria.

The fifth station to be built is at Moorclose in Workington.

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