Volunteer firefighter pushes Sunderland fire station campaign past 10,000 signatures

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TEN thousand Wearsiders today gave a united call – “keep our fire station open”.

In just six weeks, more than 10,800 people have put their names to our Hold Fire petition, demanding brigade bosses reverse their decision to close Sunderland Central.

The Railway Row station is facing the axe in 2017 due to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service having to make multimillion-pound cuts.

And it was a volunteer firefighter who pushed the Echo’s campaign over the 10,000 mark, thanks to his selfless efforts and determination to save the station.

Retired George Smith, of Pallion, gave up hours of his own time during the past six weeks to collect signatures from businesses and residents across the city.

George has now handed over almost 1,600 signatures to Julie Elliott MP, who is working with the Echo on the campaign.

The pensioner explained why the station is so close to his heart and what has motivated him to fight the closure.

He said: “I was in the Auxiliary Fire Service from when I was 18 until it was disbanded in 1968.

“When I saw Julie Elliott was taking the petition to the city centre several weeks ago, I knew I had to get involved to fight for our station.

“Since then, I have been knocking on doors and speaking to local businesses, everyone I meet supports the petition and opposes the closure.”

Last week, the Echo revealed how the station has won a stay of execution until 2017 – but it remains earmarked for closure.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority has set out, and approved, a four-year plan that would see the station close as the brigade fights to make savings of £5,449,689 in the face of £8.8million cuts.

Mrs Elliott today said she was full of admiration for George’s contribution to the fight.

She said: “More than 10 per cent of all the signatures on the petition are as a direct result of George’s hard work, and that really is astonishing.

“On behalf of all the people who support the campaign, I would like to wholeheartedly thank George for his amazing contribution.

“On 24th March I welcomed the news that no station closures are to be considered for at least three years, but we must keep collecting signatures to try and secure the station’s future for the long term.”

John Szymanski, editor of the Echo, added: “This is a fantastic milestone and it shows the depth of feeling people have about the station.

“I would urge anyone, who has not done so already, to sign the petition and help make our case stronger.”

•Sign the petition online here