Â£600,000 needed keep Seaham Fire Station running at present safety level, say fire chiefs
Fire chiefs in County Durham would need to fork out Â£600,000 a year to maintain current standards in Seaham.
The station is facing a major shake-up following a legal ruling on staffing arrangements and the need to save money.
Following government funding cuts, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) is consulting on plans to cut £448,000 from its budget in 2019/20.
Speaking at Seaham Fire Station last night, Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) Dominic Brown said: “We’ve [made savings since 2011] with back office staff and management and everything else we can without having to look at front line services.
“What we get [in Seaham], we would say, is excellent value for money – we get a 24-hour response with 13 staff.
“We’ve got staff who what to work that and the public like having a 24-hour response.
“Last year we reviewed this and decided we didn’t want to change anything, but something happened nationally and we’ve got to change things.”
Currently, Seaham Fire Station is staffed by firefighters working from 7am – 7pm and outside these hours they stay in nearby accommodation so they can respond quickly to night incidents.
But fire chiefs have been forced to call time on this arrangement, following a legal battle between South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the Fire Brigades Union, which ruled such shift patterns could be in breach of the European Working Time Directive, which regulates rest time for employees.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
Under the proposed changes, fire chiefs could shift to an ‘on-call’ system at night, with staff called into work within five minutes of an alarm being raised.
ACFO Brown conceded this would lead to increased response times at night, but added increased staffing would cost £600,000 to keep response times at their current level.
Changes would also be made in Newton Aycliffe, which currently uses a similar shift system.
One of the fire crews based at Durham Fire Station, in Lanchester Road, could also move to Spennymoor in a package of reforms expected to save £450,000.
About 20 people attended last night’s meeting, including several from Peterlee concerned at suggestions the town could see one of it’s crews sent to Seaham to provide evening cover.
Susan McDonnell, a Durham county councillor representing Peterlee, said: “The fourth option is you recruit more firefighters.
“The service you provide is an emergency service and Grenfell Tower taught us cost-cutting costs lives.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service