Union fears over the future of fire stations

Harrogate Fire Station could be 'downgraded', according to union leaders.

Harrogate Fire Station could be 'downgraded', according to union leaders.

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Fire stations in Ripon and Harrogate are likely to be “downgraded” as part of a major shake-up of the fire service in North Yorkshire, union leaders fear.

The chairman of the North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Simon Wall said he was “absolutely certain” the stations would be affected by the planned changes across the county, which would see the number of full-time firefighters reduced and some engines replaced with smaller response vehicles.

He also expressed “grave concerns” that the cuts would seriously compromise public safety.

Mr Wall sounded the warning after authority members at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service voted for the controversial measures, included as part of its latest Fire Cover Review, to go to public consultation.

It is not yet clear how many fire stations and fire engines across the county would be subjected to the proposed cutbacks, which the union said were designed to save the service £1.2m.

However Mr Wall said based on evidence collected by the union, he firmly believed Harrogate and Ripon were in the firing line.

“I’m absolutely certain that Harrogate and Ripon are earmarked for downgrading, which would include fewer staff and increased response times,” said Mr Wall, who is a watch manager at Harrogate Fire Station.

“There could also be an impact on public safety in Knaresborough because that engine will be required to back Harrogate up more often than not.

“There’s got to be change but not to the detrimental impact on public safety and potentially the safety of firefighters.

“Public safety is a massive worry for us.”

Government spending cuts remain a burden to public bodies and a finance report to the authority in February stated that a net reduction in the budget of £2.5m between 2013-14 and 2016-17 should provide it “with reasonable assurances as to its future financial resilience”.

The authority was unavailable for comment but in January when the proposals were first revealed, head of risk management Owen Hayward said the changes would be made in a “sensible and safe manner”.

After the proposals were ushered through for public scrutiny last week, the FBU said the changes would inevitably put lives at risk.

Under the plans, smaller tactical response vehicles with two firefighters would replace some fire engines.

Another change voted through last Wednesday, but without being subject to further scrutiny by the public or fire service personnel, is to introduce a ‘Revised Response Model’ where the ideal situation would be for all 46 fire engines to be available, but the service would try and manage with 27.

Managers have already agreed locally to extended response times, with two stations allowing firefighters up to 10 minutes to arrive at their stations when alerted to a call.

At present there are 12 fire stations in North Yorkshire that operate 24 hours a day, supported by full-time firefighters.