Firefighters across Devon are being trained by police in order to boost the number of officers in rural areas.
Firefighters from Devon and
Somerset have been trained for two months to take on the roles of community responders with Devon and Cornwall Police.
The seven that have been trained so far can now arrest suspects, but must prioritise fighting fires when needed.
Police and fire unions have criticised the scheme as a ploy to “paper over the cracks” saying “firefighters exist to save lives, not to enforce the law”.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, said the new roles would help make “communities in Devon and Cornwall safer”.
“They are a great addition to rural communities and importantly represent extra resource for blue-light services,” she said. “They are not a replacement to full-time sworn police officers, whose ranks we are also adding to with a further 85 being recruited this year, taking our numbers to the highest level since 2012.”
But Dave Green, from the Fire
Brigades Union (FBU), said: “Firefighters provide a humanitarian service, which often allows access to areas of the community that the police sometimes struggle to engage with.
‘Independence from the police is vital to ensure that communities know firefighters exist to save lives, not to enforce the law.
‘We remain opposed to any attempt to turn firefighters into law enforcement, either in Devon and Somerset, or elsewhere in the country.”
Okehampton, Newton Abbot and Totnes will all receive a community responder later this year.