The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned lives are being put at risk by the introduction of a policy to crew fire appliances in Tyne and Wear with just four firefighters.
The change was introduced at four stations in January, and has now been rolled out across Tyne and Wear’s other five stations.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service say the first phase of the change has been ‘effective’, but the FBU have called the move – introduced by the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority – ‘dangerous’.
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The union points to the recent blaze at the former Alex Smiles recycling depot, in the Deptford area of Sunderland, which saw 13 appliances and 48 firefighters in attendance.
They say that left the rest of Tyne and Wear with just eight fire appliances and 40 firefighters ready to respond to other incidents, and there could now be fewer resources still.
The model sees two fire appliances removed from duty between midnight and 9am, according to the FBU.
Russ King, secretary of the FBU in Tyne and Wear, said: “Never ending budget cuts are leaving the fire service with threadbare resources.
“Let’s be clear: every time we have a major incident from now on fire service resources will pushed to the limit.
“Lives are being put at risk.
“If there are fewer fire appliances with fewer firefighters, the lifesaving work they perform will be compromised.
“We are urging the fire authority to reverse the decision to remove the engines from the night time fire cover.
“Having a crew of four also puts firefighters at increased risk of serious injury.
“At least five firefighters are needed for example at a house fire so that they can follow proper firefighting procedures designed for their own safety.”
Coun John McCabe, councillor for Hebburn South, is also fearful about the affect the cuts could have.
He said: “It’s reducing the safety factor.
“It’s a resource issue, but if you are cutting resources you are cutting into the standards.
“It could very well result in deaths.”
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief fire officer Alan Robson said: “Since the implementation of the Fire Authority’s decision in January 2018, we have closely monitored the first four stations that adopted the change.
“This information has further confirmed our belief that in making the change we would not increase risk to either firefighters or to our communities.
“The first phase has been effective and we will continue to monitor as we commence.”