Fire Crews have the X Factor

Firefighter Carl Lewis tells Bishops Castle pensioner Margaret Griffiths about the Bogus Callers Task Force

Young firefighters at one of Shropshire's far flung rural fire stations have the X Factor when it comes to community spirit.

The 12 strong crew at Bishops Castle are giving up their evenings and weekends to fit smoke alarms and door chains as part of a campaign to protect the 2,000 Bishops Castle population.

They have so far knocked on more than 500 doors and fitted 465 smoke alarms in the exercise which has seen fires fall dramatically, said Leading Firefighter Tony Barnes who is spearheading the initiative.

"It does make people in Bishops Castle feel safer and it is helping to reduce fires. The lads really get a kick out of helping people," he said.

The young crew, who have full time jobs as well as working as retained firefighters, have put their hobbies on hold and many of them have swapped their weekend lie ins for duty on the doorsteps of Bishops Castle.

"We turn out whenever they want us. You do get a lot of satisfaction out of doing something worthwhile and it is good for everyone to see fire crews in the street," said Leading Firefighter Steven Marpole, 24, who confessed he used to get up late at the weekend and "mess about" with his car.

Firefighter Carl Lewis, 30, a mechanic at A.J.Hemmings garage in the High Street, has given up his weekend kick boxing for the community initiative.

"Any hobbies do have to take a back seat. You join the brigade to serve the community."

Firefighter Steve Thomas, 20, a team leader at Embreys, added: "It's something you are committed to. We all enjoy it."

They still have 250 more doors to knock on and then plan to re-visit the homes where the householder was not in.

"Instead of just going out and squirting water on a fire we are going out into the community and helping to prevent fires with the smoke alarm initiative," said Tony.

Fire crews have now linked their smoke alarm campaign to the Bogus Caller Task Force involving police, local councillors and Shropshire Care and Repair to fit door chains, spy holes and mirrors to every home that wants them.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to work as a team. It is true partnership working," said Tony, at the launch of the Task Force which is being funded jointly by the fire service and the victims of crime group.

His fire station has been chosen as the pilot for the new initiative which will be extended to the whole of Shropshire if money is available.

Divisional Officer Mike Ablitt said: "The funding for this initiative is very limited. The bogus caller group only has a small amount of cash available to them and that's it, so Bishops Castle is about all we will be able to do at present.

"As the benefits become clear, we are hoping that further funds may be made available to allow it to continue."

Crime Prevention Officer, Constable Tim Weaver said bogus callers who distracted mainly older more vulnerable people before stealing from them were of great concern.

"It is an under reported crime. There are a lot of incidents where people living alone in their 80's are being targeted. By providing door chains and door viewers you are giving residents the tool to deal with unwanted callers at the door. It is of great reassurance value."

Bishops Castle great-grandmother Margaret Weaver, 73, of Grange Road, said: "I feel safe now. The door chains are very useful and it means you can open the door a safe distance and see who is outside."

Hundreds of leaflets about the new free service are being distributed by fire crews throughout Bishops Castle. Other agencies such as WRVS, district nurses and Age Concern also link with the fire service to refer a resident who can benefit from the service.

2nd February, 2006