Steve Jones was horrified to discover Chester city centre now has only one fire engine immediately available because he owes his life to firefighters who rescued him in the dead of night.
Steve was led to safety from the third floor of a smoke-filled building in Bridge Street Row after midnight back in January, 2002, when two fire crews arrived in about four minutes.
Now social media expert Steve, founder of Chester Tweets, is joining forces with concerned ex-firefighters to raise fears over the relocation of Chester’s second pump to Powey Lane in Mollington , which is 10 minutes away.
Recalling what happened on the fateful night, Steve explained he and his then business partner had fallen asleep in a flat above the new hair salon they were due to open the very next day.
Steve, 47, from Hoole, said: “‘We were terrified with no apparent way of exiting the building and were both panicking and extremely frightened, and thinking desperately of how on earth we were going to get out alive. We were coughing and choking because the smoke was so bad.
“As I looked out of the window I could see the fire crews and fire engines and frantically waved at them to get us out which thankfully they did in very quick time. We were treated for smoke inhalation and I felt so lucky to still be alive. Two fire engines were on the scene in about four minutes.
"This quick and effective response could not have happened if the appliances had to come from another fire station some distance away. The rapid response of the crews and number of appliances immediately available and attending undoubtedly saved our lives. I constantly think back to how different things might have been.”
Government cuts have forced Cheshire Fire Authority to find savings. In this area, the eventual aim is to have just one full time engine covering Chester and one covering Ellesmere Port with Powey Lane as back-up for both towns. A second full-time engine at Ellesmere Port will eventually be staffed by ‘on call’ firefighters.
But a group of retired firefighters have been working behind the scenes gathering evidence as well as drawing their concerns to the attention of Chester MP Chris Matheson . Their worry is not having enough firefighters on scene in a timely fashion.
The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service standard requires just one fire engine on scene within 10 minutes on 80% of occasions – but this can’t be achieved at all in some rural areas and doesn’t take account of the need for two fire crews to allow safe working in many rescue scenarios.
Richard Wilding, a former station commander at Chester Fire Station and now president of Chester Retired Firefighters, said: “We are fearful of the situation in Chester. Our wonderful and irreplaceable heritage in the city centre is now at serious risk. However, it is the risk to people which concerns us most.”
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service defended its decision to base just one fire engine in the city since January 2017. Chiefs claim most incidents only require one crew. When a second engine has been needed, it has been just four and a half minutes behind the first on average.
A spokesman said: “In February 2013 following a public consultation, members of the Cheshire Fire Authority approved the project to construct a new fire station at Powey Lane, Mollington, as part of a significant package of measures to improve the efficiency and operational response of the service across Cheshire.
“The station at Powey Lane has been operational since January 11th, 2017. From then, until June 30, 83% of the incidents in the Chester area required only one fire engine to attend. When an additional fire engine was required it arrived 4.5 minutes after the first fire engine, on average.
“The fire engine at Powey Lane has resulted in improved response times to life-risk incidents including road traffic collisions on the surrounding road network. It also provides support to Chester and Ellesmere Port as well as other locations across Cheshire, as required. During this time the service’s average response time to a life-risk incident within Chester has been six minutes and 40 seconds, well within our response target of ten minutes.
“The service has been working hard with local partners to minimise the fire risk presented by Chester’s heritage buildings and has developed comprehensive plans to reduce risk and respond effectively to any incidents. During the above period the average response time for all incidents within the Chester City Walls was five minutes.”