PLANS have been drawn up to build a £1million accommodation block for firefighters on 24 hour shifts as part of cost-saving measures.
Rainton Bridge Fire Station is to lose 16 firefighters as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service looks to save £8million in the face of Government cuts.
A total of 131 posts will go as the service trims £5million from its frontline budget.
A new 24-hour shift pattern has been introduced at Rainton Bridge with crews staying in a purpose-built block while on call.
Officers who did not sign up to the new shift pattern have moved to other stations, but will not be replaced when they leave.
The shift pattern is expected to save £500,000 a year and the Houghton station was chosen because it has the lowest number of call outs.
Firefighters were called out 1,447 times in the last three years compared to 4,055 for Sunderland Central, 2,415 for North Moor, 2,033 for Fulwell and 2,492 for Washington.
But union bosses slammed it as “a return to Victorian work practices” and claimed it will not provide the same standard of service.
The Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU) also said it would have long-term impact on finances, as firefighters on the new shift earn 23 per cent more, which means their pension contributions must also rise.
Dave Turner, brigade secretary for the FBU, said: “We rigorously oppose this duty system and believe it is a return to Victorian working practices because they are expected to be on duty for 90 hours a week.
“We don’t believe that is appropriate in this day and age and it also puts an added pressure on our pension scheme.”
The 12 officers who have agreed to the new approach will work with bosses to decide what periods of time they will live on base for, but will still complete 182 shifts during the year.
The block, which is expected to be completed by spring, has been designed so family members can visit.
A similar scheme is in operation in Birtley and County Durham Fire and Rescue Service run one in Seaham.
A planning application for the Mercantile Road station has been submitted by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service Authority to Sunderland City Council, and if the £1.048million two-storey extension is approved, it is expected to save £500,000 a year through the new shift pattern.
The building project is being funded by Government cash, with the service to make up any shortfall from reserves.
Assistant fire chief officer Chris Lowther said: “From the public’s point of view, they will still get what they got yesterday, which is a fire appliance which is available 24 hours a day and the same number of people will attend at the same time.
“What the fire authority get from it going through is a significant budget reduction.”
The FBU believe the approach is a “return to Victorian working practises” and dispute fire chiefs’ claims the same standard of service will be provided.