FIRE CHIEFS have defended plans to scale back front-line staff across England’s largest county in the biggest shake-up of a brigade in two decades despite fears that the move could place lives at risk.
More than 40 front-line staff could be cut in the review, which would affect a series of stations across North Yorkshire. The county’s fire authority has maintained the changes are necessary because the number of incidents they attend has fallen significantly since the last full cover review was undertaken in the 1990s.
Area Manager Owen Hayward said the reduced resources reflect a fall in risks to firefighters, but anticipated the job losses would be achieved through natural leavers.
He said: “There have been 34 per cent fewer instances over the past five years and we need to match our resources to that. We think that there is an over-provision at the moment and that these proposals meet the risk to firefighters.
“Yes, we do have a saving target but we are conducting the review in response to the reduction of risk over time and we have to reduce resources to meet that.”
The plans drawn up by North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service would see 43 frontline staff cut at six stations, including Harrogate, Ripon, Northallerton and Tadcaster.
While the Fire Brigades Union’s brigade chairman, Simon Wall, admitted there had been a reduction in incidents, he stressed the size of the risk posed to firefighters has not changed in this time.
He said: “We can’t agree with the Chief Commander that our service is over-staffed. We’ve already had a 10 per cent reduction in our work force over the last 10 years.
“We are concerned about the impact these changes could have on the public’s safety and the knowledge that they expect a fully-equipped fire service when they dial 999 or require community fire service help.
“We’ll have 43 going across the service from six affected stations. If you take five out of this station then that is still 10 per cent of our force. We could be looking at quite big reductions of fully-trained and fully-qualified firefighters.”
A public consultation over the plan, which would see the service save £1.5m from its annual £30m budget, was launched e on July 2.
Proposals included replacing one standard shift fire engine with a tactical response vehicle in Harrogate. The standard day crewed fire engine would also be replaced in Ripon with either a tactical response vehicle or a mixed crewed fire engine.
But Mr Wall raised concern with the introduction of tactical response vehicles, classing it as a “big risk”, adding: “They only carry two firefighters and can only go to certain instances. They have limited capabilities and will stretch the already under pressure part-time firefighters.
“We are being thrown in at the deep end by actually replacing fire engines with these vehicles. There’s no back up and there’s a major concern for our safety.”
Despite these concerns, Mr Hayward stressed the smaller vehicle would still have the equipment necessary to deal with a number of instances.
He said: “There may be fewer staff turning up initially to an incident but there’s no increased risk and no intention to commit crews when it would be too dangerous.”