SUNDERLAND’S Central Fire Station could be facing the axe as service bosses look to trim more than £5million from their front-line budgets.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20 per cent of front-line posts – in a bid to save around £8million in total.
Union officials have condemned the move, which they say will put firefighters and the public at risk.
Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling yesterday outlined three options the authority is putting out to consultation, which includes closing Sunderland Central Community Fire Station and increasing the number of community fire stations with two fire appliances.
Under the plans, crews will be reduced from five firefighters to four at stations with one fire appliance, which includes Fulwell and Rainton Bridge.
Mr Capeling said the fire authority had been left with no choice after seeing cash it receives from Government slashed since 2010. Spending had already been cut in other areas, but wages accounted for 80 per cent of expenditure.
He said: “The one thing that the authority wanted to do was always protect the front line. But unfortunately, we are now in a position where we can no longer protect the response that we provide to the public.
“At the moment, we have 30 fire engines that are available 24/7, 365. What we are saying is we can no longer afford that option.
“The amount and level of reduction in our finances over the next three years are simply too much for us to maintain this level of response 24/7.”
It was hoped the jobs losses could be met through natural wastage.
Priority would be given to fires in which lives and property were at risk, but it was inevitable the cuts would have an impact on the time it would take to respond to lower priority incidents.
“We will be slower,” said Mr Capeling.
“You can’t remove this level of resource from a blue-light service and everything get better – you just can’t.”
But he was confident Sunderland city centre could be adequately covered from Farringdon and Fulwell, or the new Marley Park station which is due to replace it.
“We are trying to maintain our response to live risk,” said Mr Capeling.
“Sunderland central can also be covered within six minutes on average from the stations that surround it.
“Sunderland central is a busy station, there’s no getting away from that. It has high levels of antisocial behaviour-type incidents and also alarms and we will continue to have life-risk incidents – but we will still be trying to maintain the speed of response that we have now and we can do that by closing Sunderland Central.”
Budget choices for fire service
Option 1: Introduce four small ‘targeted response appliances’ (TRAs) staffed by two firefighters, to attend lower-risk incidents such as rubbish and derelict property fires. Two of the TRAs to be staffed 24 hours a day with the others on call if needed. Six fire engines to be axed altogether and two ‘stood down’ for up to 12 hours a night at quieter stations. All fire stations with one fire appliance to be crewed by four firefighters, rather than five (this would include Fulwell and Rainton Bridge). Reduce the number of aerial ladder platforms from three to two.
Option 2: As option 1, plus: replace Wallsend and Gosforth Stations with one around the Benton area and increase the number of community fire stations with two appliances.
Option 3: As option 1 or 2, plus: close Sunderland Central Community Fire Station and increase the number of community fire stations with two fire appliances.
Union fears for safety of public and firefighters
A SENIOR union official condemned the cuts.
Fire Brigade Union North East regional secretary Dave Turner said: “Our concern is for the safety of the public and of the firefighters.”
“We have made it clear in all recent discussions with senior managers that we will oppose any further cuts to front-line services,” he said. “These are the most devastating cuts in the service’s history, and will mean firefighters and the public will be at far greater risk if these cuts go ahead.
“It also means that areas of Tyne and Wear will be left without cover for extended periods, again increasing the risk to both the public and firefighters alike”.
Reducing the number of firefighters on each vehicle and making fire engines travel further was bound to have an impact:
He urged the fire service and the authority to stand up to central Government.
“We should all be standing together and saying to the government, ‘We can’t tolerate these cuts.’
“The public and our firefighters are going to suffer.”