Fire chiefs say any delay to a cost-cutting plan could cost the service up to £60,000 a month.
Bosses at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority have warned of the potential financial impact if they cannot complete a consultation on the proposals in time.
On Monday members of the authority agreed to begin a 10-week process to examine three options which, if all are adopted, could save more than £3million.
The plans include:
Moving one fire engine from Washington Community Fire Station to Sunderland Central Community Fire Station
Switching to part-time staffing at Hebburn Community Fire Station, with evening cover provided from South Shields
One fire engine at Farringdon Community Fire Station becoming part-time
Starting today, staff will be brought up to speed, while events are also expected to be held in each of the local authority areas affected to gauge public opinion.
The process is planned to be complete by January 14.
Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther said: “It brings no joy to bring this report to the authority. Officers have done their best to ensure appliances and response times are protected.
“It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity, we have a budget gap and we have to attend to that.”
He added: “We aim to get a report to the February fire authority meeting and implement in April. Any delay would take us away from that and any delayed month would cost the authority £60,000.”
By next year, the fire service will have lost almost a fifth of its budget – £11.3million – since 2010.
The meeting heard that in real terms the cut has been closer to £25million – the equivalent of about 41% of its spending power.
The meeting heard that, by 2021/22, the authority expects to have a gap in its finances of up to £3.6million – still more than the £3.3million it thinks it could save if it eventually agrees to implement its current proposals.
The individuals savings for these are estimated at;
Proposal One – Rearrange crew distribution across Tyne and Wear – £717,000
Proposal Two – Changes to crewing arrangements at Wallsend, Hebburn and Farringdon – £1,620,000
Proposal Three – Changes to rotas and reductions in staffing levels – £985,000
In total, these could also see the loss of up to 82 jobs, although the authority has said it expects to be able to achieve this without making any redundancies.
This would also be offset by the expected creation of 12 new positions.
Authority vice chairman and leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes said: “It’s not just the money, it’s how it’s distributed around the county – 50 per cent of cuts to fire services have fallen on just six organisations, yet because we’re metropolitan areas we have more than 50 per cent of the risk.
“What that means is this organisation has been cut disproportionately and for longer than many fire services, which presents some impossible challenges when looking at ou budgets.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service