Firefighters took nearly 15 minutes to get to a house fire in Yorkshire which claimed the life of an elderly woman, union official have revealed, as they warned cuts are resulting in devastating consequences.
The 89-year-old victim died in the fire at a house in Cowpasture Road in Ilkley in the autumn.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service sent five appliances from Otley, Silsden, Rawdon, Bingley and Keighley stations as well as an aerial appliance from Bradford to the blaze.
But a representative of the Fire Brigade Union, David Gillian, has revealed the first crew did not arrive for nearly 15 minutes which he blamed on financial cuts and staffing issues which have left services either stretched or unavailable in the Wharfe Valley area.
He said: “As a firefighter it’s devastating and a number of our members were really affected by this incident. It’s really hard to take, especially after we’ve warned management repeatedly about the problems in this area.”
The FBU has claimed that government funding for brigades nationally will fall by £155m in 2019/2020, representing a 15 per cent cut from 2016/17 to 2019/20.
The union also claimed that funding was cut nationally by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
Read more: Elderly woman dies in Ilkley house fire
Mr Gillian said that on the night of the blaze in Ilkley on the morning of October 31, the town’s crew was unavailable due to a lack of retained firefighters.
He also added neighbouring stations in Silsden and Otley are retained, meaning crews have to travel to the sites before heading out on calls.
He said: “At times of high activity, we’re seeing fire cover stripped over a huge area. It’s a case of crossing your fingers that nothing else happens in these moments. Cutbacks are being made in the name of efficiency, but an emergency response service can only guarantee people’s safety with slack in the system, otherwise it become a matter of probabilities and luck.”
A brigade spokeswoman said Wharfe Valley is deemed a “very low risk area” with Ilkley, Silsden and Otley operating on an “on-call and retained duty system”.
She said: “There must be a minimum of four firefighters on call at any one time for the fire engine to be available. At the time of call to the incident, the Ilkley fire engine did not have four on-call firefighters available and therefore the fire engine was unavailable for fire calls.
“Three fire engines were mobilised to the incident – from Otley, Silsden and Rawdon fire stations.
“The Otley engine arrived first and the time from mobilisation of the fire engine by our control room to arriving at the incident was 13 minutes and 38 seconds.
“The Fire Service has concluded that the fire was accidental and the most probable cause was due to an electric heater close to combustible materials.”