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Fire-service cuts could risk lives

CUTS LOOMING ... Tyne and Wear Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling.

CUTS LOOMING ... Tyne and Wear Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling.

D-DAY is looming for fire stations all over Tyne and Wear – as the brigade faces making millions of pounds worth of cuts.

A meeting of Tyne and Wear Fire Authority, at the brigade’s Washington HQ, will take place on Monday to decide how £5m of cuts to its budget will be managed over the next few years.

The service could axe more than 20 per cent of its workforce – more than 100 workers – and see Hebburn Fire Station lose one of its two engines.

Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling outlined three options and put them out for consultation last October.

Option one includes “standing down” engines on quieter nights and reducing firefighter cover at some stations.

Option two would see the same cuts, plus the closure of community fire stations in Wallsend, North Tyneside, and Gosforth, Newcastle, with services moving to a new facility at Benton.

A third option would see closures in Sunderland.

If all options are taken up, 131 firefighting jobs would go.

Mr Capeling has admitted that response times “will be slower” after the cuts are made.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the plan for Hebburn – which will lose an appliance under all three options – will put lives at risk.

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 blazes.

Dave Turner, regional secretary of the FBU, says Hebburn will lose its status as a specialist rope rescue base – the team which helps in cliff rescues, operations on bridges and high buildings, and also rescues 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.

“All these proposals are unprecedented, unsustainable and unacceptable.

“Firefighters are standing with their local communities, and calling on fire bosses to reject these proposals and protect both frontline firefighters and the public of Tyne and Wear.”

The union points out that the station covers an area which has a number of high-rise blocks, as well as potential problem sites such as the Tyne Tunnel and Shell UK terminal in Jarrow.

FBU representative for Sunderland Gordon Chalk said some firefighters will be lobbying councillors who are part of the fire authority to use the brigade’s cash reserves and not implement the cuts.

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