MORE than 34,000 people have backed a campaign to save Sunderland Central Fire Station.
The Echo has collected 14,000 signatures online, while more than 20,000 people have added their names to a collection organised by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU).
Sunderland Central is one of three stations earmarked for closure by the authority as it looks to save cash following £8.8million of Government cuts.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20 per cent of front-line posts – in October 2013.
In March last year, the authority announced the station, alongside those in Wallsend and Gosforth, had been handed a stay of execution and would not close until June 2017, with efforts being made to try and find the funds up to that date and a financial review being carried out every year in the meantime.
The campaign petition will be presented at a meeting of the fire authority a week from today.
The authority will meet on Monday, February 16, with the budget for 2015/16 based on the latest financial settlement by the Government expected to be on the agenda.
The campaign was boosted with a march and rally from the station in Railway Row on Saturday, organised by Sunderland TUC.
Julie Elliott, city council leader Coun Paul Watson and union officials addressed the crowd in Sunderland Market Place.
Russ King, secretary of the FBU’s Tyne and Wear branch, said he had been amazed by the Echo’s ‘Hold Fire’ campaign and the backing it had received from the public. I have been overwhelmed with the support of the Echo and Julie Elliott in terms of rasing the profile of the campaign,” he said.
“FBU members will always be grateful for any help they receive and the support the Echo has given us in the past few months has been remarkable.
“We would like to thank the Echo for that.”
Julie Elliott said that although the station had won a stay of execution, with closure put back to 2017, it was important to keep the campaign going and not allow the closure threat to slip off the agenda
“Today is about keeping the fire station campaign in the public eye,” she said.“We have had the decision deferred until 2017, but that is not the same as saying it has gone away completely.
“We need to keep the pressure on the fire authority to make sure it stays open.”
Among those joining the march was 57-year-old Karen Sinclair, who lives just around the corner from the station in Chepstow Street, Millfield. She feels so strongly about the threat to the station that she has written directly to Prime Minister David Cameron asking him to intervene.
“I didn’t very much like his answer,” she said.
Karen received a reply from Downing Street to say her letter had been passed to the Department of Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the fire authority’s budget.
“I just don’t think they should close Sunderland Central fire station,” she added.
“This is the fire station for a big area of the city and it does worry me what might happen if it is closed.”