I've just got back after an evening spent with the retained firefighters at Falmouth Fire Station together with fellow councillors Judith Haycock and John Fitter.
I sit on the small scrutiny group which is helping to make sure our fire and rescue service is the best it can be. As part of our work, we went to Falmouth which is one of two whole timed crewed stations in Cornwall (the other is Camborne). But we weren't there to see the whole time firefighters. Instead, we were meeting the retained section. These are fully trained crews who work 120 hours a week on call and who support the whole time crews as well as having their own specialist duties.
One of the unique aspects of Falmouth is that they operate the Marine Incident Response Group system, delightfully known as MIRG. Whilst many fire brigades operate a marine system for fires close to shore, only a few participate in the MIRG system which enables fire and rescue expertise to be delivered offshore - sometimes up to 200 miles away. The nearest MIRG partners are in Hampshire and South West Wales.
MIRG operates both alongside and offshore. Alongside includes those ships within Falmouth Harbour and within the Carrick Roads up as far as the King Harry Reach where boats are laid up. Offshore, not surprisingly, means those boats which are out to sea.
In order to fight these fires, the MIRG team has a mixture of specialist equipment and their regular gear which is tasked to marine operations. They can reach boats at sea by three means - using the helicopters based at Culdrose for ships furthest away from shore, by using the Coastguard ship permanently based around the Cornish coast or by using their own RIB, the Phoenix, which is moored in Falmouth marina.
One of the recent marine trips was to deal with a serious fire on board to Irish ferry the Oscar Wilde.
We went out in the RIB for a trip around Falmouth Harbour and the lower stretch of Carrick Roads. The boat can carry up to eight firefighters and can travel at up to 40 knots - which means that it can help to support to station at St Mawes - reaching the town in less than ten minutes. The RIB itself costs little to maintain and I believe is a great addition to our firefighting capabilities.
As well as seeing the work of the marine team, we picked up on a number of other issues which we will be able to explore further during our more 'normal' meetings.
Many thanks to all at Falmouth Fire Station for all the help and information they were able to give us during a great visit.