LIVES could be put at risk if Malvern firefighters are forced to fight more blazes in Worcester, the chairman of the area’s Fire Brigades Union has warned.
Plans to cut one of Worcester’s full-time crews are being proposed by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service as it bids to slash £4million from its budget over the next three years, but Julian Jenkins said it would mean engines from Malvern would have to cover the shortfall.
“With Worcester losing half their full time ones and Ledbury losing half its fire engines, that means someone in the middle such as Malvern is going to be caught between the two,” the chair of the Hereford and Worcester branch of the FBU said.
“They’re being taken out of their own communities, so any fire stations which aren’t facing closures or loss of fire engines, they’re going to be working more and out of their area more.
“So even though places like Malvern aren’t directly affected they’re going to be spending more of their time in Ledbury or Worcester trying to back up the crews there.”
And Mr Jenkins said stretching resources to the limit could prove fatal with people facing longer waiting times for an engine to arrive.
“Are you happy you are going to wait five minutes longer while your house is filling with smoke or you are trapped in that car?” he added.
“People will get hurt, people will die.”
But a decision on whether or not to remove a whole-time fire engine from Worcester has been temporarily put on hold after an eleventh hour bid to give the service more money was approved.
Councillors were set to rubber stamp the £4million of budget cuts including £1.7million from the frontline at a Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority meeting at County Hall last Wednesday (February 19).
It would have seen the loss of five engines across the two counties, including one in Ledbury. The Fire Brigades Union estimates about 20 firefighters could be made redundant.
But Labour councillors made a last minute amendment to take £485,000 out of the service’s £1.5million savings to lessen the impact of the cuts, despite objections from the Conservatives the budget for 2014/15 was balanced and any additional cash would be better spent in future years.
It has been suggested the new money could be enough to save the crews under threat but final details will not be known until the next meeting of the authority in June.
Chief Fire Officer Mark Yates said they would re-examine their proposals following the authority’s decision but warned the money would only last 12 months.
“The funding gap is still there, we still need to find £4million over the next three years,” he said.
“Proposals to remove resources from the fire service is a dark day. I’m a fire officer of 30 years experience and I didn’t join or become a chief fire officer to remove resources.
“But I did come to do my best job and if that best job involves removing resources to balance the budget then that is what I must do even though I don’t personally wish to.”