Tower block residents concerned over proposals to downgrade fire station

Hebburn Fire Station would only have part-time crews if the proposals go ahead.
Hebburn Fire Station would only have part-time crews if the proposals go ahead.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of vulnerable tower block residents over proposals to downgrade Hebburn Fire Station.

The plans, unveiled by fire chiefs earlier this month, could see the station in Victoria Road West staffed by a part-time crew.

Coun John McCabe is concerned at the downgrading of cover.

Coun John McCabe is concerned at the downgrading of cover.

They would only on duty during the day, with evening and night cover provided by firefighters based in South Shields.

The proposals come as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) bid to make £3.6million of savings over the next three years.

Related: South Tyneside set to lose firefighters

Hebburn residents and councillors asked if the plans could impact on services if a serious fire broke out at a tower block in the area, such as Durham Court.

Coun John McCabe told a meeting of Hebburn Community Area Forum: “We don’t want another Grenfell or another horrendous incident like that, but these things from time to time do happen.

“We’re on high terrorist alert, and with bad weather and long nights we have multiple road casualties around this time of year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to work out if you continue to take away a resource there is a consequence.”

Durham Court resident Peter Tallack also asked how firefighters would know how many people were in the building if there was a fire.

Station manager Ian Cuskin, from Hebburn fire station, said any tower block fire would see four fire engines attend.

He added that the fire service uses data from home safety checks which helps prioritise vulnerable tenants, including those with mobility issues.

Sprinkler systems and tenant information would also provide additional safety measures in tower blocks, the meeting heard.

Mr Cuskin explained that, if the proposal went ahead, high-risk incidents would see average response times reduced by 17 seconds for the first engine on scene and 35 seconds for the second.

He added that TWFRS would remain “one of the fastest-responding fire and rescue service in England”.

“What the fire authority are trying to do is provide available resources so it balances risk with demand.”

Under the proposals, a heavy rescue appliance based at Hebburn could also be relocated to South Shields.

In the case of a serious fire, support could be called in from neighbouring areas, such as Washington, Gateshead or Wallsend.

Coun Adam Ellison criticised fire chiefs for the “limited information” in the consultation process, which is due to close on January 14.

He said: “I’m quite disappointed there’s only one consultation event taking place in the whole of the borough.

“I think if you’re trying to get the public behind the proposal, there should be more than one.”

Fire chiefs are holding a public meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, November 27, at Jarrow Hub between 5.30pm-7.30pm where residents can give feedback.

Earlier this year, South Tyneside Council backed plans to install automatic sprinkler systems to several tower blocks in the borough.

This included Ellen Court, Monastery Court and Wilkinson Court in Jarrow and Durham Court in Hebburn – covering 286 residents in total.

It is anticipated that the improvements will cost an estimated £1.4million.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service