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Tycoon's Plan To Fight Fires From The Air
A multimillionaire has pledged his time, his money - and his helicopter - to provide firefighters with air support.
Property tycoon Jeremy Paxton, 52, is expecting to stump up a seven-figure sum to cover the costs involved.
The experienced pilot has offered to fund the one year trial entirely.
He told Sky News: "It gives me a chance to really pursue my love of flying and do something useful at no cost to the fire and rescue service and at no cost to the taxpayer. So I thought: what's not to like about it? Let's give it a go."
"I was surprised to find out that the fire service don't actually have a flying fire engine.
"If something can be added to their existing asset base by volunteer pilots with volunteer helicopters that ends up saving one life, it will be worthwhile. And I think it will save many."
The idea has been inspired by 601 Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, a group of wealthy amateur aviators who fought alongside the RAF in the Second World War.
Mr Paxton has already started to line up his own squadron of millionaire helicopter pilots who could, at their own cost, assist other fire services across the country if the trial in Wiltshire proves successful.
From April, he will be on call three days per week at the 550-acre Lower Mill Estate of holiday homes in Cirencester - which he owns,
If his services are required, he is capable of being airborne in three minutes.
He will then fly to Fire and Rescue HQ in Trowbridge where he will pick up staff and specialist equipment before setting off to the incident.
Mr Paxton will not be working as fireman himself but will ferry personnel and specialist kit.
Using four custom-made pods, the helicopter will be capable of carrying equipment to deal with four types of emergency - road accidents, animal rescue, forest fires, and deep water rescue.
At twice the size of the Isle of Wight, it can take fire crews over an hour to reach the most remote parts of Wiltshire.
After leaving Trowbridge, Mr Paxton can reach any part of the county in under 16 minutes.
But Tam McFarlane from the Fire Brigades Union is not supportive of the idea: "The public rely entirely on a professional fire and rescue service so we have to be accountable to the public. Accountable financially to the public as well.
"We can't rely on multimillionaires giving us charity. Where will it end? Is Roman Abramovich going to lend us his yacht for floods?
"Clearly, it's untenable."
The chief of Wiltshire's fire service, Simon Routh-Jones, believes Jeremy's offer will bring "tremendous benefits".
"We're a very large county. That gives us logistical problems getting around. What Jeremy will bring is that added value to get to incidents quickly," he said.
"We should be looking outside the box. It is not - and I stress - it is not to substitute what we are doing.
"It is to add to the safety of the general public that they serve. And why wouldn't I want to look at it when you've got somebody with Jeremy's level of expertise and wealth that he can bring to assist us in being able to deliver a service?"