FIRE union leaders “fully expect” Sunderland Central fire station to be closed by May next year.
The fears were raised by Dave Turner, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) North East regional secretary, at a public meeting held by Sunderland Against The Cuts.
He told the meeting: “We are convinced that certain members of the Fire Authority want to drive through cuts deeper and harder than they need to, so they can say they were forced into it by the Coalition Government.
“The Fire Service has become a political pawn.
“I’m fully convinced that the station closure will be in place before May 2015, so certain politicians can say ‘it was nothing to do with us, it was the Coalition’.” Mr Turner highlighted recent efforts by Sunderland MPs and councillors to halt the closure plans, which were over-ridden by Newcastle politicians.
He added: “This has become a political issue and they are playing politics with people’s lives.”
Mr Turner went on to back the Echo’s Hold Fire campaign which aims to stop the Railway Row station closing as the fire brigade tries to make multimillion-pound savings.
Bosses at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) argue the city centre can be adequately covered from outlying stations.
Fire minister Brandon Lewis said the service could use its £30million reserve to cover cuts.
He said: This body has had a cut of a couple of per cent in spending power for each of the last couple of years and has built up its reserves.”
Chief fire officer Tom Capeling hit back.
He said: “If reserves were used to meet the projected gap, then more than £16.8million would be required over the next three years.