FIRE Unions fear multi-million pound cuts to fire services in Cambridgeshire could put lives at risk and endanger the health and safety of firefighters.
Branding Thursday ‘a dark, dark day’ Kevin Napier, secretary of Cambridgeshire Fire Brigade Union (FBU), hit out at the decision to close one Fenland fire station and see cuts to the number of fire engines, support workers and firefighters.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority ‘rubber-stamped’ proposals at its meeting on Thursday - despite a massive protest by firefighters from across the county outside the Fire Service’s Huntingdon Headquarters.
There were a few minor changes but the proposals, blamed on cuts in the fire authority’s government funding, went through on a majority count.
Some of the recommendations can be implemented almost immediately or when appropriate by the service, while others will involve full business cases being made before going back to the Fire Authority at a later date.
If they all get agreed they will save an estimated £5 million, but there may still need to be more at a later date if some predictions are right.
One the biggest threats to the Fenland service is the closure of Manea fire station, which is likely to be implemented later in the year - after a full business case has been made.
A report to Thursday’s meeting said the village appliance only attended an average of 24 incidents a year - although 17 of those were ‘potentially most serious’, such as building fires, secondary fires and road traffic accidents.
Other cuts include a loss of up to 40 ‘backroom’ staff, but crucially proposed changes to work patterns for front-line staff could also see a cut of at least 25 firefighter posts.
The Fire Authority believes this will not impact too severely on the service because the changes to shift patterns will cover this reduction.
Wisbech could be affected by the changes to work patterns but it is too soon to say what these might be as this is an area under review.
But the union is worried it could lead to longer working hours, which in turn could impact on health and safety for its members.
The report agrees response times will be increased in some areas of the county including Fenland.
Mr Napier said: “Never in living memory has anyone working in the fire service in Cambridgeshire faced cuts of this magnitude and our members, the front-line professionals, are convinced both public and firefighter safety will be put at risk.”
He branded the changes as ‘total devastation to the Fire and Rescue Services of Cambridgeshire - putting the lives of the public and the health and safety of fire fighters at risk.’
He said the FBU will now be reflecting on the changes and will be holding meetings over the next few weeks to ascertain members’ feelings.
“Being a firefighter is a vocation, it is in your blood. Our members feel passionately. I can’t rule out a dispute and I can’t rule out some form of industrial action,” said Mr Napier.
He added they would looking to put forward alternative proposals.
He also said they would be challenging the democratic process claiming the councillors involved had failed to represent their constituents properly, as well challenging decisions made.