Fire Service Cuts And Station Closures Threatening Public Safety

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Humberside and Tayside FBU banners on a national FBU demonstration in Liverpool
Humberside and Tayside FBU banners on a national FBU demonstration in Liverpool

Humberside fire crews are warning that cuts and station closures will compromise public and firefighter safety.

The warning came as local fire crews launch their campaign to stop the most savage cuts ever proposed in the fire service in Humberside, said the Fire Brigades Union on Wednesday.

The cuts are being proposed because Humberside Fire and Rescue Authority want to make budget cuts of £4 million over the next three years.

This is despite the authority getting far more money than it expected from central government to help pay for the fire and rescue service.

There are plans to close four fire stations (Sledmere, Waltham, Kirton Lindsey and Hull Central) remove a fire engine at another (Immingham West) and end the immediate response capability of a fire engine at another (Goole).

As fire appliances can attend, assist, support and provide cover well outside their station areas, these cuts will have an impact across Humberside, the FBU warned.

Local fire crews estimate the cuts will see the loss of one in ten frontline firefighter posts.

‘If the plans go ahead we would have between 100 and 110 fewer frontline firefighters to deal with all the emergency incidents the fire and rescue service needs to respond to,’ the FBU added.

Ian Murray, Humberside FBU spokesman said: ‘These are the most savage cuts ever proposed in the fire service in Humberside.

‘These cuts will harm our ability to respond to all the types of emergency incidents we now attend.

‘The “fire” service is now an all-round community rescue service with an enormous range of rescue responsibilities. These cuts and closures will mean fewer firefighters taking longer to get to all 999 incidents, not only fires.

‘The closure of Sledmere, Waltham, Kirton Lindsay and Hull Central stations and cuts at Immingham West and Goole will clearly compromise safety in those areas.

‘But safety will also be compromised in those areas which rely on these stations for rapid back up and support.

‘With those closures and cuts that back up will take longer to arrive which will affect our ability to do our jobs at emergency incidents.

‘This will clearly compromise public safety and our safety.

‘Firefighters could be left in the impossible position at 999 incidents of either waiting until a safe number of firefighters arrive and risking the lives of the public, or ignoring basic safety procedures and risking our own lives.

‘Councillors or senior managers will not be at the scene when we are faced with those hard, real questions and the deadly dilemma we will be placed in as rescuers.

‘Local fire crews have legitimate concerns and strong views about these issues.

‘We are the professionals who understand the daily reality of the job we do and we will campaign to defend the service we committed ourselves to when we joined.’

Meanwhile in the North East, Cleveland fire crews are warning that fire service cuts and station closure plans will increase risk to the public and fire crews.

The Fire Brigades Union says Cleveland’s government grant funding over the next three years is the worst in the North East, and amongst the worst in the UK.

It takes no account of the Authority’s unique, high risk operating environment and will result in the loss of about 60 fire fighter posts.

The fire authority says it needs to make savings of at least £2.1 million. The union says this must not be at the expense of public or firefighter safety.

The FBU stresses that the government grant does not take proper account of Cleveland having 37 of the highest level major accident hazard sites (COMAH sites).

Cleveland also has:

• a predominantly urban densely populated area that closely resembles a metropolitan brigade in terms of socio economic characteristics with significant levels of deprivation (43 per cent of council wards in Cleveland fall within the ten per cent of worst nationally);

• the highest concentration of petro chemical sites in Western Europe, many in close proximity to residential areas and shopping and leisure facilities;

• a nuclear power station

• the busiest port in terms of tonnage handled in the UK;

• thousands of hazardous material vehicle movements by road and rail every day.

The union says the government needs to urgently review and increase the money it gives Cleveland, taking account of the unique industrial and other risks.

It says the fire authority must raise the maximum it possibly can from its council tax precept in the years ahead.

The key proposals include:

• completely closing the Marine fire station in Middlesbrough or closing it at night;

• cutting the number of firefighters on appliances;

• cut the immediate availability of specialist safety and rescue appliances which will slow down the time they take to get to 999 incidents;

• downgrade some fire stations and introduce changes which could tie firefighters to their stations for very long hours; abolish station-based community safety teams.

Steve Watson, Cleveland FBU Brigade Secretary said: ‘Cleveland is not just unique in the UK, but in Europe because of the huge number of the very highest level of major accident hazard sites.

‘We have sites many, many times the size of Buncefield.

‘Business pay their taxes too and they deserve the very best in return for their money. And why should council tax payers in Cleveland pay more for a worse service?

‘Cuts and closures increase the risk to public safety and everyone knows it.

‘There is a real concern there will be yet another cut in the number of firefighters at a time when our rescue responsibilities are greatly increasing.

‘The fire and rescue service is a strategic safety and rescue resource which ensures a high degree of public safety, and these cuts will have long-term and serious consequences.

‘We are no longer only a fire service, but an all-round community rescue service attending a huge array of 999 incidents as well as providing excellent community safety services.

‘The longer it takes to get to a 999 emergency the greater the risk to those needing rescue.

‘To reduce the number of frontline firefighters on appliances will also have a direct and serious impact on safe working at incidents.

‘Firefighters could be left in the impossible position at 999 incidents of either standing back and waiting until the necessary resources arrive and risking the public, or ignoring basic safety procedures and risking ourselves.

‘This is a well-known risk faced by rescuers.

‘Cleveland fire crews have legitimate concerns and strong views about public safety and their own safety.

‘We are particularly aware of these issues at a time when, nationally, firefighter deaths have reached a 30-year high.

‘We are the professionals who understand the daily reality of the job we do.

‘We will campaign to defend the service we committed ourselves to when we joined.’