Firefighters lives across Yorkshire will be put at risk when further cuts from central government hit in early 2020, the Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU) has warned.
Government funding for the fire and rescue service is expected to fall by £155 million in 2019/20, which the FBU has said has already had devastating consequences.
The Yorkshire Post recently revealed how it took firefighters nearly 15 minutes to reach the scene of a fatal house fire in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, in which an 89-year-old woman died, as a result of financial cuts and staffing issues which have left services either stretched or unavailable.
David Gillian, a representative from the FBU has revealed that watch manager numbers will be almost halved across West Yorkshire in January, with crews reduced from five firefighters to four.
He said: “Central government has continued to cut funding to dangerous levels and we are already finding there are not enough firefighters in the system now to cover the basics such as training courses, sickness and annual leave. Firefighters, just as with other public servants, continue to bear the brunt of austerity.”
Speaking about the reduction in watch managers, Mr Gillian explained: “The plan is for the remaining watch managers to ride flexibly in cars, rather than on the fire engines but it is likely they will end up being pulled back to stations to maintain minimum staffing levels of four rather than five. That fifth crew member was introduced for firefighter safety following firefighter deaths and now this vital safety role is being casually discarded across the country. It is a mess. We have not got enough people in the system to make things work. We are becoming more and more stretched. We are seeing members of the public die like in Ilkley. Its being brushed under the carpets and excuses made.
“The other fear we have is that firefighters are going to get killed. You are under that moral pressure to break all the health and safety rules and do your best to save people’s lives and that’s where people start to get killed. We saw this happen at Grenfell. It was lucky that this tragedy happened in the most resourced area of the country, had it happened here in Yorkshire it would have been far worse. It’s also a miracle that no firefighters were killed that night. It’s something we’re going to see more and more. We might not be as lucky next time.”
Mr Gillian also revealed that on the back of the Grenfell enquiry there is going to be more pressure on fire authorities to carry out more inspections to make sure buildings are safe.
He said: “Ultimately what we need is more funding from the Government, but the Fire Authority and management are reluctant to go to the public and say we haven’t got enough money because they don’t want to cause panic, but that is what needs to happen.
“I seriously fear for the future.
“I just want to go to work, do my job and keep the people of West Yorkshire safe then return safely home at the end of the shift to see my son. I want the same for every one of my members but it’s getting harder to keep this a reality.”
A West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said the service's Command, Leadership and Management (CLM) model, which will be introduced in January, is a "more effective and flexible way of working" for operational staff.
The spokeswoman said: "Crew Managers will be in charge of the majority of our less serious incidents to which fire engines will respond with a minimum crew of four.
"Watch Managers will now only attend the more serious emergencies and will respond in a car additionally where they are needed. This will provide them with more time to dedicate their expertise to improving the Service.
"The new CLM model will lead to expected financial savings of over £1M and there will be no redundancies made as a result, however over time there will be a reduction in Watch Manager posts through leavers or planned retirements.
"CLM, which was approved by the Fire Authority in December 2018, will have no impact on the number of fire engines available at any time or the safety of any operational staff."