PROPOSALS TO cut the number of full-time firefighters and replace some fire engines with smaller response vehicles across North Yorkshire would seriously compromise public safety and “are not worth the paper they are written on”, union leaders said.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) sounded the warning after authority members at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service voted for the controversial measures, included as part of its latest Fire Cover Review, to go to public consultation. It is not yet clear how many fire stations and fire engines across the county will be subjected to the proposed cutbacks, which the union said were designed to save the service £1.2 million.
Government spending cuts remain a burden to public bodies and a finance report to the Authority in February stated that a net reduction in the budget of £2.5m between 2013/14 and 2016/17 should provide the Authority “with reasonable assurances as to its future financial resilience”.
The Authority said no one was available for comment following the publication of details which said how members had voted, but in January when the proposals were first revealed, head of risk management Owen Hayward said the changes would be made in a “sensible and safe manner”.
After the proposals were ushered through for public scrutiny yesterday, the FBU told The Yorkshire Post that the changes would inevitably put lives at risk.
Under the proposals, smaller ‘tactical response vehicles’ will replace some fire engines, amounting to a “massive downgrading” of response vehicles, Steve Howley, the FBU’s North Yorkshire brigade secretary said, adding: “These vehicles would have two firefighters on and very little water. They would essentially have a watching brief at an incident until another resource arrives.”
Under the proposals some stations staffed by a full-time crew of 16 firefighters would only be staffed by six full-time personnel, with shifts and leave meaning only two full-timers would work at any one time.
Mr Howley said this reduction would mean there would be times when fire engines would not be fully crewed to respond to breaking incidents immediately.
Another change voted through yesterday buy without being subject to further scrutiny by the public or fire service personnel, was to introduce three levels of acceptable fire response times for firefighters: within five minutes, 15 minutes and an hour. It adds up to just 27 fire engines now being available to respond to incidents within five minutes - down from 46.
Mr Howley said: “If we want to save lives and protect property, you have to have a turn out within five minutes at a maximum but management decided we were already using these response levels in some stations so they voted the proposal through without it going to the public - but this is downgrading a public service.”
At present there are 12 fire stations in North Yorkshire that operate 24 hours a day, supported by full-time firefighters.
Mr Howley said: “Management’s line is the proposals offer a more cost effective fit of response to risk because fire calls have been on a downward slide, but we would question whether they need to save the money they are looking for, and they are trying to do it by lazy methods.
“These cuts aren’t worth the paper they are written on and people’s lives will be put at risk.
“We can’t afford to make any more cuts.”