Fears over fire crew shift plan

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FIREFIGHTERS could have to “live” at their stations for up to 96 hours at a time as part of a cost-cutting new shift system.

Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service is looking to introduce the controversial Low Activity Staffing Model (LASM) at Sunderland South station, Rainton Bridge, which would require crews to be away from their families for four consecutive days.

It would replace the current four-watch rota with a two-stage duty system, with a period of working followed by one on standby, but being on site for the whole time.

LASM is designed to ensure less-busy stations can deal with incidents without the cost of having full-time crews on both day and night shift, potentially halving the number of firefighters at Sunderland South to 14.

The Fire Brigades’ Union said it would oppose the move, labelling it a “return to Victorian working practices”.

Dave Turner, secretary for Tyne and Wear, said: “We view the likes of LASM with great concern.

“It’s massively unfair to keep people away from their families for four days at a time.

“There are not many people who would like to go to work for 96 hours on the spin.

“It will mean the public gets a fatigued, tired and stressed workforce to protect them.”

Fire Authority members discussed a review of the idea at a meeting at the service’s headquarters in Barmston, Washington.

They passed a recommendation to start work towards implementing the scheme, which could be introduced by 2013.

A report said the current whole-time staffing system was “highly effective,” but has high costs.

The service has to save millions of pounds over the next few years, due to Government spending cuts, which have seen it among the hardest hit in the country.

Introducing LASM at Gateshead West station and Sunderland South – which serves 37,700 people in Houghton, Hetton, Shiney Row and Easington Lane – would eventually save about £800,000 a year, after initial costs of building accommodation blocks.

A report said evidence showed the system would “not adversely impact on the response times within the relevant station area”.

Chief Fire Officer Iain Bathgate said it would only work at the quieter stations, and he does not see it being rolled-out across the service.

He also said that details of the scheme would be subject to consultation and negotiation, but did not expect it would be difficult to find volunteers from the current workforce.

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