A FIREFIGHTER claims proposed service cuts could have cost the lives of a family of four trapped in their blazing home.
Two young children and a puppy were among those rescued from the dormer bungalow in Millfield, Sunderland, in the early hours of yesterday.
Fire crews from North Moor and the under-threat Sunderland Central stations were called to Millburn Street at about 1.45am, after the terrified mother called 999 from an upstairs bedroom.
Now Fire Brigades Union (FBU) representative Gordon Chalk said plans to close the city centre station in Railway Row could prove fatal.
Firefighter Chalk, who is based in Fulwell, said: “It takes only a couple of minutes to die in a house fire. The family had a lucky escape.
“If the Railway Row station was not there, there is a much bigger chance they could have died.
“North Moor is about four to five miles away, so it could have taken another four to five minutes and that is all it takes.
“You can have a smoke-filled bedroom in a minute.”
Controversial plans to shut the city centre were revealed by the Echo last month.
Fire chiefs are considering closing the Railway Row station in a bid to cut £5million from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s frontline service budget, with 131 jobs to go due to Government cuts.
But FBU spokesman Mr Chalk has maintained the move could be deadly.
He said: “There have been two fire-related deaths in Millfield. It is a well-populated area, as is the city centre – that is why they can’t close the city centre station.”
Police have confirmed the fire in Millfield is not being treated as suspicious.
Taxi driver David Lynch, 53, who lives opposite, saw the rescue.
He said: “I came out because I heard a noise and I saw the firemen pulling the kids out of the bedroom window.
“I saw young children with the firemen. They were in their pyjamas and they were carrying them out.”
A 50-year-old neighbour, who did not want to give her name, added: “I heard the smoke alarm going off and I thought it was mine. There were cars parked all along the street and the fire engines could not get in. They had to park at the top. The firemen had to break the door down.” Neighbours believe the family moved in to the bungalow just a few weeks ago.
A spokeswoman for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said the ground floor of the bungalow was destroyed in the fire.
Meanwhile, a boxing gym has been burnt down.
Firefighters from Sunderland Central, North Moor and Washington were called to the allotments off Rockingham Road, Downhill, just after 10pm on Friday.
A single-storey building, which was being used for boxing practice, was razed to the ground in the fire.