PLANS to slash fire cover by half at a fire station in South Tyneside could put lives at risk, a union official claims.
Budget cuts of £7m over the next three years have been blamed for the move, which could see Hebburn Fire Station in Victoria Road West lose one of its two fire engines.
Under proposals by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, the station’s vehicles could be reduced to one with extra evening cover supplied by a targeted response vehicle – crewed by two firefighters and used to tackle wheelie bin fires and small rubbish fires.
Dave Turner, regional secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, also says that, if cover is reduced by half, it will mean Hebburn will lose its status as a specialist rope rescue base.
That is a specialist team who help in cliff rescues, operations on bridges and high buildings and rescue large animals like horses.
Mr Turner said: “Hebburn is historically a specialist area, and it will lose the skills if the proposals are given the go ahead.
“The plans are devastating. In all three options, Hebburn will lose an appliance and this has the potential to put lives at risk.
“It will mean that, when a crew turns up to a house fire, they will be able to get ready and do the preparation, but they will not be able to commence rescue operations until the second appliance arrives.
“That would have to come from another station, possibly even from across the river.
“This is certainly going to put lives at risk for both firefighters and the public.”
Hebburn and Jarrow also has a number of high rise blocks, as well as potential problem sites such as the Tyne Tunnel and Shell UK terminal in Jarrow.
Coun Eddie McAtominey, who sits on the Fire Brigade Authority, said: “As part of the consultation, the proposal has been made to downgrade Hebburn Fire Station from two engines to one. During busier times, an emergency response vehicle will be used.
“No one is happy with the situation we have been forced into but we have lost a huge amount of cash. The blame for this lies with the Government.”
Hebburn councillor Coun John McCabe said: “I agree with the union that lives are being put at risk.
“We are all in the same boat. We have to make cuts but there are only so many you can make before it has a damaging effect.”
Coun McCabe is urging residents to let their views be known during the consultation period.
Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling, said: “In developing these options, our objective has been to maintain quick response to incidents where lives are at risk and where there is significant risk to property.
“However, to do this, we need to change the way we operate and we will be slower in attending other incidents. The service now has the same level of response – regardless of risk. These options tailor the response to the seriousness of the incident”
The consultation is open for people to have their say until January 1. Go to http://www.twfire.org/
n The union has announced details of further strikes in a dispute with the Government over pensions.
Strike action will take place on Friday, November 1, from 6.30pm until 11pm, and Monday, November 4, from 6am until 8am.