Fire cuts putting lives at risk, union chief warns

A union chief has claimed lives are being put at risk by a cut to the number of firefighters serving on fire engines.

Toddler Miles McBurnie - who was saved by a fireman after a house blaze - with grandmother Ann Solomon.
Toddler Miles McBurnie - who was saved by a fireman after a house blaze - with grandmother Ann Solomon.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) say that a staffing shake-up at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service will lead to ‘dangerous delays’ to carrying out rescues.

The service has decided to change the number of crew members on fire engines from five to four at nine fire stations.

Russ King claims the new system could put lives at risk.

Russ King, brigade secretary for the FBU in Tyne and Wear, has pointed to incidents including the rescue of toddler Miles McBurnie from a house fire in Sunderland last month, and claims there could have been a different outcome had the new system been in place then.

He said: “In December, a fire crew from Marley Park station rescued a child from a house fire and carried out lifesaving first aid until the arrival of paramedics.

“Without the fifth firefighter, the rescue would have been delayed until back-up arrived from other stations.

“If this incident had occurred after the reductions came into effect then the outcome could have been tragically different.

Russ King claims the new system could put lives at risk.

“This incident clearly demonstrates the importance of the fifth crew member - four firefighters are not able to provide the full range of firefighting and rescue tactics in a safe controlled manner that a crew of five can.

“Tyne and Wear Fire Authority need to immediately reverse the decision to reduce the number of firefighters in a crew.”

The changes came into effect on New Year’s Day at stations in Marley Park, Hebburn, Wallsend and Birtley, and will be rolled out to five others in June.

Miles, aged 18 months, was brought back to life by a fireman after a fire at his home in Wentbridge, Witherwack.

His grandmother, Ann Solomon, revealed how the youngster stopped breathing after being overcome by smoke and was saved by a fireman.

Despite the claim of the FBU that lives such as Miles’ could be put at risk by the cut to the number of firefighters on fire engines, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service says it is confident that is not the case.

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Robson said: “At the last fire authority meeting it was agreed to approve the implementation of the previously agreed proposal to change the level of crewing from five to four, on fire engines at nine stations.

“This was an essential decision for the service in order for us to balance our available resources against risks to our community and firefighters.

“Following extensive public consultation, consideration of the technical advances in our firefighting equipment, our successful approach to fire prevention, additional research and analysis – including information from six other fire services who currently operate this level of firefighter cover – we are confident that this decision does not present any risk to our firefighters and the professional and dedicated service that they provide to our community.

“Should the financial position of the fire authority improve significantly through the coming Local Authority Financial Settlement, or in future years, this and other decisions implemented through our Integrated risk management process will come back to the fire authority for review.”