Fire stations in Tyne and Wear could be downgraded under cost-cutting plans drawn up by fire chiefs.
Stations could see the numbers of crews and fire engines reduced under the scheme, which could see the loss of up to 70 jobs and save more than £3million.
But proposals have also led to accusation of ‘bully tactics’ by unions bosses, after Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority voted this morning to begin a public consultation.
At the meeting, authority vice chairman Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, revealed a separate set of options, which would have included withdrawing some fire engines from services, had already been ruled out.
But for Russ King of the Fire Brigades Union, the admission was intended to boost backing for the proposals.
“It’s a bully tactic,” he said, “they’re saying you can have this or you lose your [fire engines].”
However, he also said he accept cuts needed to be made hoped suggestions from the union during the consultation will be taken on board.
He added: “I understand they [the authority] have got a job to do and an extra £3.6million to find.
“But I think the proposals that they have looked at can be done differently, especially the differences with the shifts.”
Members of the fire authority, which oversees Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, approved plans to start the consultation today.
It will run until January 14 and is set to included public events in each of the five local authorities directly affected.
Work to bring staff up to speed is due to start tomorrow.
Proposals to overhaul the organisation are:
Rearrange how crews are distributed across Tyne and Wear based on ‘community risk and expected demand’.
This could see a fire engine and targeted response vehicle (TGV) moved from Washington to Sunderland Central and from Gosforth to Newcastle Central.
It could also see heavy rescue units from Hebburn and Newcastle moved to South Shields and Wallsend, respectively.
Introduce changes to crewing arrangements at Wallsend, Hebburn and Farringdon, which is expected to cause an increase in response times, although the service claims this would only be by up to 17 seconds
Changes to rotas and reductions to staffing levels at stations
A feasibility study to look at potential new sites is also ongoing.
A report to the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority also revealed a manager has been appointed to oversee a project to replace Hebburn fire station.
Speaking after the meeting, chief fire officer Chris Lowther said: “To ensure we are a sustainable and flexible fire and rescue service, continuing to deliver an excellent service for our communities, our finite resources must be applied to where the greatest risks are in Tyne and Wear.
“That analysis has resulted in three proposals for change.
“I would urge our communities to get involved in our consultation – it’s your views which will help shape your fire and rescue service for now and the years to come.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service