Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service was “almost brought to its knees” by a blaze at film studios in Leavesden, a leading fire official has claimed.

Last Thursday (July 11) around 15 fire crews tackled the fire on the set of HBO sci-fi comedy Avenue 5 at Warner Brothers Studios.

Leading fire fighter Derek Macleod – who is chairman of the Hertfordshire Fire Brigades Union – says the service was so stretched that fire crews from neighbouring authorities were put on alert by Hertfordshire.

He says firefighters were required to stay at the scene of the incident for eight hours instead of the usual four.

And, he says, there were asked to enter the building to fight the fire in breathing apparatus up to three times.

Watford Observer:

Firefighters ran a hose from the canal. Photo: Nathan Louis

Mr Macleod – a serving firefighter at Watford Fire Station – has already discussed health and safety concerns relating to the incident with the FBU’s regional officials.

And he says it illustrates the pressures that are put on the service – and individual firefighters – by crewing fire engines with four firefighters.

He says appliances are crewed with four instead of five, because the county’s “threadbare” service hasn’t recruited enough firefighters.

And  he says that had there been five firefighters on each appliance last Thursday, there would have been an additional 15 firefighters at the scene.

Alternatively, he says, there could have been the same number of firefighters, but three fewer appliances called to the scene – improving cover in other areas of the county.

Watford Observer:

“It wasn’t an overly-large fire, but it almost brought fire cover in this county to its knees,” he said.

“We were having to ask for fire engines from neighbouring authorities to cover the county.

“And many crews were having to spend an enormous amount of time in that fire.

“Some were at the fire for eight hours – having to repeatedly go into the burning building with breathing apparatus two or three times.”

Mr Macleod says that firefighters were working outside normal working practices – which are designed to take into account the physical demands of the task.

Watford Observer:

And he says that bringing appliances from as far away as Hitchin, Stevenage and Royston had an impact on fire cover in those areas – with services in Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire being alerted to the situation.

Mr Macleod made the comments following a full meeting of Hertfordshire County Council, in which councillors were asked to back a Labour motion to reverse cuts in crew sizes, from five to four.

However, Hertforshire’s deputy chief fire officer Chris Bigland says that the welfare of firefighters is paramount.

And he says it is standard practice for neighbouring fire services to provide support for each other.

He says – depending on the firefighter and the environment – it is acceptable for firefighters to enter a fire multiple times with breathing apparatus.

Read more: Avenue 5 producer thanks firefighters after fire at Warner Bros

And he says the safety and welfare of all firefighters would have been monitored by the command team throughout the incident.

“We would like to see firefighters not on an incident ground for sustained long periods of time, especially if they are suffering from significant fatigue,” said Mr Bigland.

“And it’s up to the command team to constantly assess the safety and welfare of staff.

“It is absolutely vital and essential for us to look after the welfare of firefighters.”

Mr Bigland acknowledges that typically firefighters would remain at an incident for between four and six hours.

Read more: Fire breaks out at Warner Bros Studios - recap

And he says that if there had been a need for new crews at the studios the command team would have requested them.

He stresses that it is a “business as usual” national arrangement for fire services to be supported by neighbouring authorities.

And he says Hertfordshire is frequently called on to support services in neighbouring Cambridge, London and Buckinghamshire.

“The ’13/16′ arrangement is the national ability to move resources to support sister services to maintain fire cover across the country,” he said.

“It happens on a daily basis all over the country. It’s well-practised – and we would normally supply to other services, as opposed to the other way around.”

In addition, Mr Bigland says that the Hertfordshire service’s plans to reduce crew sizes and introduce a more flexible fleet would have enabled them to better deal with an incident, such as the fire at the studios.

He says the changes would allow them to permanently crew ‘special’ appliances such as the aerial platform ladder – without impacting on the availability of traditional fire appliances.

And he says the planned trials will lead to a more “agile and flexible” approach that will support special operations more flexibly.