Lives put at risk as four Plymouth firestations to cut crews
PEOPLE will die if "savage" cuts to the city's fire service are pushed through – that's the stark warning from union chiefs determined to stop the axe falling at four stations.
Government chiefs are proposing to cut life-saving teams at Plymstock, Plympton, Crownhill and Camels Head.
It means Plymstock and Plympton will be left with only retained crews – part-timers who can take up to seven and a half minutes to get to the station when there is an emergency call out.
Camels Head will lose one of its two full-time crews in favour of on-call fire fighters. And the aerial ladder unit based at Crownhill will also be reduced to a retained service.
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Crownhill will still have one full-time crew, as well as one other on-call team.
The actual fire engines will still remain in service.
The cuts are an attempt to fill a shortfall in the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service budget. As reported in The Herald yesterday its funding will fall by £5.5 million over the next two years.
The proposals are among a range of potential cuts which will be put forward for public consultation on January 18.
But union bosses have reacted furiously, with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) branding the plans "the most savage cuts ever" to the region's fire service.
FBU secretary Trevor French said: "Cuts cost lives. That's not scare mongering. It's not rocket science, if you increase the time it takes to get to a fire, you increase the chances that lives will be lost."
Fire service chiefs will not increase response time targets to take account of stations becoming retained.
And Mr French fears fire chiefs have got their sums wrong.
He said: "From the time an advert goes in the paper, to getting a retained fire fighter competent takes two years – so where are all these retained fire fighters coming from? They have to live or work within seven and a half minutes of the station. The turnover of retained firefighters is only a few years – compared to 30 years service for a whole time guy – so more and more money will be spent on training.
"They are saying they are going to invest £450,000 increasing fire safety awareness. But accidents happen. Is it best value for money investing in prevention or putting staff in stations?"
Mr French said he worried that the proposed cuts were an added pressure to a service already feeling the strain.
"We aren't hitting targets as it is," he said. "Last November, we got to fires within 13 minutes 60 per cent of the time. Years ago that was up in the 80s and 90s. It's just not good enough. That's the challenge we face at the moment – before all of these cuts. It's making our task impossible. I'm a firefighter myself and we all love our job. But this is making it harder and harder to protect the public."
Chief Fire Officer for Devon and Somerset Lee Howell said: "The changes we propose aim to strike the balance between making savings and maintaining public safety.
"These are difficult times and difficult choices are needed. The status quo is simply not an option given the need to significantly reduce the budget. At this stage, we do not plan on closing fire stations, removing fire engines or making staff compulsorily redundant."
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