‘Lives at risk’ from massive cuts to fire brigades

Jamie Courtney
Jamie Courtney
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YORKSHIRE’S fire services stand to lose a further £18.5m in funding by 2015 despite warnings the “disgraceful” cuts will cost lives.

Figures suggest the county’s four brigades are in line for cuts totalling £7.9m in 2014/15 on top of a £10.9m reduction in spending power in 2013/14.

Frontline services will “inevitably” be affected further after two years of savage cuts that have already seen fire stations closed down across the region and scores of firefighters lose their jobs.

Now urgent calls are being made for a rethink as campaigners warn more cuts will lead to dangerously long response times and put lives on the line.

Pete Smith, regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “The cuts that have already happened mean fire engines don’t get to incidents as fast as they used to and everyone knows that time is the most important thing.

“The quicker we can get to someone the more chance we have of saving them.”

Firefighters’ lives will also be put at risk as crews will feel “morally obliged” to put themselves in harm’s way when faced with longer waits for back-up to arrive at serious incidents, he added.

“If you pull up at a burning house and hear kids crying ‘get me out’, it is going to be very difficult to stand and wait and you yourself will become vulnerable just for doing your job,” he said.

He added: “We have to ask: Is it an accident waiting to happen? And if it does happen who is going to stand up and take the blame for it?”

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service faces the biggest blow, losing £4.7m of its spending power next year and £3.3m the year after.

Its plans to close or merge six stations across the region are to be discussed by the West Yorkshire Fire Authority today.

A spokeswoman for the brigade yesterday said it was confident a “top-class service” would be maintained under the shake-up.

Chief assistant fire officer Martyn Redfearn told MPs in July that deep cuts would cause lives to be lost in the long term as its prevention work would suffer.

The cuts faced by fire services in 2013/14 were estimated from figures in the latest local government funding settlement, while leaked papers have revealed the Government’s plans for 2014/15.

They suggest South Yorkshire, which has already lost one in seven firefighters, faces a £4.6m cut in its spending power by 2015.

Chief fire officer Jamie Courtney said: “We are still examining the figures to fully understand the impact but it’s clear any further reduction to our budget will inevitably impact on frontline services.”

Humberside stands to lose £4m and North Yorkshire’s spending power will be reduced by £2.2m, the figures suggest.

Yorkshire MP John Healey said it was “disgraceful” that metropolitan fire authorities including South and West Yorkshire would be hardest hit again, as they have been for the last two years.

“Death and danger from fire do not discriminate, but the Secretary of State did in his first funding settlement by giving six southern fire authorities a rise in funding and the six metropolitan areas a deep cut,” the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne said.

A “flat, fair, across-the-board cut” such as that dealt to police forces should have been imposed, he told Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, whom he went on to criticise for “continuing to hit the North harder than the South”.

Mr Healey has previously said the cuts are “unfair, unequal and hard to justify” and warned Ministers they would mean “more people will die”.