Union heads claim North Yorkshire fire control room staff cuts 'putting lives at risk'

Earlier this year a fire crew was dispatched to an incorrect address in Killinghall under the current system
Earlier this year a fire crew was dispatched to an incorrect address in Killinghall under the current system

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) has defended itself against claims by union heads that staff reductions has put its control room at a crisis point.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has claimed a reduction in the number of staff at the North Yorkshire fire services' control room in July 2016, from 22 to 15, is putting the remaining staff under pressure and putting lives at risk. Under the current arrangement emergency calls are also received by the fire service's control room in Cornwall.

However earlier this year a fire crew was dispatched to an incorrect address in Killinghall under this system, the FBU say this has occurred elsewhere along with delays to mobilisation.

Steve Howley, brigade secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “We have now reached crisis point. The FBU warned management and the fire authority of the dangers that the cuts would have on the ability of the control room to function safely and effectively. Unfortunately, no one listened to our concerns. We were accused of scaremongering. But these are the repercussions of such savage cuts.

“Long hours, stress and isolation – it is becoming common for one trained operator to be on shift alone – have led to an increase in sickness amongst staff which further compounds the workforce shortages.

“The chief fire officer and the fire authority need to be held to account for these failings and to get a grip of the situation immediately. They are putting the lives of the public at risk by placing staff under intolerable pressure. In afire, every second counts and a delayed response can be fatal. Managers are making this more likely with their continued cuts to the service. It is completely unacceptable and must stop.”

Simon Wall, Brigade Chair of the North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union said: "Its becoming more and more concerning, we have reports like this throughout other areas of the county alongside Harrogate.

"We are concerned that the Cornwall control room cannot do everything as part of a full back up.

He added: "We need to be able to ensure that when engines are being dispatched that they are being done so adequately and correctly."

NYFRS has however said that the staff reduction in the control room was made up for by the combined efforts between them. Alongside this they have denied that staff are untrained and working hours that would put their health at risk, as the FBU have said.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Jez Rushworth said: “A collaboration arrangement with Cornwall Control Room went live in July 2016 and this allowed for a reduction (through voluntary redundancies in North Yorkshire) in the number of Control Room staff on duty in each control room, as the new combined capacity across both Control Rooms is higher than it was previously for a single Control Room.

"Under the collaboration arrangements, Cornwall’s Control Room is able to receive calls and dispatch resources on behalf North Yorkshire (and vice versa), during busy periods such as severe weather.

“It is not true that untrained staff are answering emergency calls, fire officers can be requested to provide support in our control room during exceptionally busy times, but do not answer emergency calls.

“No member of control room staff has been forced to work 90 hours a week, although there are opportunities for staff to work additional hours as overtime. We have systems in place to make sure staff do not work excessively and to ensure their welfare.”