Plan to axe Sunderland city centre fire engine – just months after station was saved

Central Fire Station, Railway Row, Sunderland
Central Fire Station, Railway Row, Sunderland
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A fire engine from Sunderland Central fire station is to be axed, just months after the station was saved.

Plans to close the Railway Row site were reversed in February – but now the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority has unveiled plans to replace one of the station’s two appliances with a smaller Targeted Response Vehicle (TRV).

A fire authority meeting on Monday agreed to push ahead with the second phase of the operational review agreed in 2013.

That will see two appliances – one each from Sunderland and Newcastle central fire stations – replaced by TRVs within the next two months.

Fire authority bosses say the smaller vehicles are perfectly capable of responding to low-risk calls, such as rubbish fires, which peak in the evening.

Between May 20 and July 7, the first two TRVs introduced in Tyne and Wear responded to 202 calls between 6pm and midnight, the majority of which were outdoor fires.

Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling said: “The Targeted Response Vehicles are purpose-built, bespoke fire appliances that will allow us to respond flexibly to lower risk incidents.

“The vehicles we have introduced so far are working well.

“As always, the safety of the Tyne and Wear public and our firefighters remains our number one priority.”

Fire Brigades Union spokesman Russ King said the fire authority had been left with no choice but to make swingeing cuts.

“Last year we had the campaign to keep the station open in the centre of Sunderland,” he said.

“However, the Government are still pushing ahead, so we have to save £8million.

“That is why the decision to remove an appliance from Sunderland Central has come about.”

The fire engine will be replaced with a smaller Targeted Response Vehicle

“In effect, it is a van,” said Mr King.

“It has just two firefighters on it and it will replace a fully-equipped fire appliance, crewed by four firefighters and with the equipment to respond to all sorts of different situations and incidents.

“They are very limited in what they can do. They will only be going out to small fires in and around the area – that could be anywhere 
from South Shields to Gateshead.

“The area is that wide.”

Today’s news was likely to be just the beginning, he warned.

“It is all down to the cuts that the Government is imposing– and it is only going to get worse.

“This is only the second stage of the strategic review – the next will be losing a further two pumps and that is looking like being machines from South Tyneside and another from the Newcastle area.”

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, who worked with the Echo and the FBU on the Hold Fire campaign, warned the cuts would put residents at risk.

“On the day we saved Sunderland’s city centre fire station I warned that, despite our victory, fire service provision was still at risk from the then Tory-led Government,” she said.

“This appliance is only being lost because of David Cameron’s relentless attack on our valuable public services. The people of Sunderland will be less safe as a result.

“Since 2010, hundreds of appliances have been lost from stations like ours nationally, 39 stations have closed completely and almost 7,000 firefighters’ jobs have been cut.”

Timeline of events

•October 2013

News emerges that Sunderland’s Central Fire Station could be facing the axe as service bosses look to trim more than £5million from budgets.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service unveils plans to cut 131 jobs – 20% of front-line posts – in a bid to save about £8million in total.

Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling outlines three options the authority is putting out to consultation, one of which includes closing the Railway Row site. Fire Brigades Union (FBU)officials and Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott condemn the move.

•November 2013

The fight against the plans gets off to slow start when a public meeting attracts fewer than 30 people.

•December 31, 2013

Public consultation on the plans closes at midnight.

FBU spokesman for Sunderland Gordon Chalk says: “We’ve delivered 10,000 leaflets in Sunderland since the consultation began and everyone we’ve spoken to is up in arms about what might happen.”

•January 2014

The Tyne and Wear Fire Authority confirms closure of Railway Row is its preferred option.

Julie Elliott criticises chief fire officer Tom Capeling: “I wrote to, and met with, the chief fire officer about my concerns. He promised to read out my letter at the meeting – he did not do this.”

•February 2014

The Echo launches its Hold Fire campaign, backed by Julie Elliott and the FBU, to persuade bosses to reverse their decision. The petition attracts more than 3,500 people in less than a week, online and on paper.

•March 2014

The station wins a temporary stay of execution, as service bosses confirm it will remain open until at least June 2017.

In just six weeks, more than 10,800 people have signed up to the petition.

Retired firefighter George Smith, of Pallion, has given up hours of his own time to collect signatures from businesses and residents across the city.

•July 2014

Visitors to Sunderland Airshow sign up in their droves as FBU members and Julie Elliott collect signatures outside Fulwell fire station.

•February 2015

Fire service bosses announce Sunderland Central has been reprieved.

 The move comes after a march through Sunderland city centre highlights opposition to the plans and the petition, which has now attracted more than 34,000 signatures, is handed in ahead of a meeting of the fire authority.