Leaked emails: Road closures WILL delay emergency services, say fire bosses
- Credit: Archant
Firefighters will be delayed in responding to emergencies if roads are closed in St Albans city centre, according to leaked emails seen by the Herts Ad.
In messages sent to St Albans council, senior fire officers said they would prefer for all roads to be fully reopened, although a final decision will be in the hands of the county council as highways authority.
In December, SADC's cross-party Public Realm Committee unanimously agreed that County Hall should “seek confirmation” that road closure trials would not "negatively impact” emergency services.
But emails seen by the Herts Ad show fire service bosses had already explicitly warned that delays would be unavoidable if any closures remained in place.
Annie Brewster, head of scrutiny at St Albans council, said proceeding with closures in spite of the “alarming” messages would endanger public safety.
“It has been made clear on more than four occasions that road closures will directly impact fire, ambulance and first responder response times," she said.
“It is absolutely the case that any barrier, bollard or other form of gate would affect the time taken for a fire service response direct from our London Road station to George Street, the Abbey or that area of the city,” said a November email sent by Sean Comerford, district commander for Dacorum and St Albans.
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Alex Woodman, the fire service’s executive director of community protection, also wrote in November: “It does slow our response times with having to open barriers, and we may be further delayed if we have to cut through the padlocks or posts in the event of issues with the locks.
“This can be caused by someone changing the locks and not giving us the new codes, or vandalism in one form or another.”
The emails were sent to Cllr Brewster after she emailed the fire service in her role as head of scrutiny.
She shared them with all members of the Public Realm Committee before they met to consider road closure options earlier this month - but no members mentioned them during the public meeting.
Cllr Brewster asked that it be made clear she was not the source of the leaked emails, and had only commented on them after being approached by the Herts Ad
In his November message, Mr Comerford said the ambulance service also faced delays.
“At a recent site meeting the ambulance service representative, Jonathan Perry, indicated there would be an impact on response times to addresses within the affected area,” he wrote.
“He also said those delays could be attributable to other factors and would not necessarily be solely down to the road closures.”
One paramedic has previously described the closures as “a nightmare” and council meetings have heard of at least two incidents where the closures impeded paramedics in medical emergencies.
In one, paramedics had to abandon an ambulance and carry equipment on foot. In another, they were delayed in attending to a child in anaphylactic shock.
Approached for this story, the East of England Ambulance Service would only say: "We have been liaising with Hertfordshire County Council on the restrictions, providing them with feedback and comments around the measures and any impact this may have on our service."
Reopening 'not an option’
Mr Woodman wrote in his email that, “The council have indicated that reopening the high street back to the original pre COVID use is not an option.”
As a result, he said, emergency services had tried to consider what closures would have “the least impact for us and the community.”
But, he made clear: “In an ideal world a return to pre-COVID arrangements would be our preferred option."
Asked whether any staff had told the fire service that reopening all roads was “not an option”, County Hall did not answer.
A spokesperson only said that fully reopening “isn’t one of the options that will be part of the trial”.
“Of course, any change to road layouts could have an impact on emergency service response times,” they said, adding that emergency services’ needs would be “taken into account in the options that are to be trialled."
“We are listening to a wide range of opinions,” they continued. “The reason for trialling these measures is so that we can understand what impact they have before making any long-term decisions."
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