40 fire service jobs to go in ‘dangerous’ cuts

COUNCILLORS have “reluctantly” approved plans to decimate Avon’s full-time frontline firefighters – despite warnings that it will put lives and homes at risk.

Avon Fire Authority’s committee heard 40 posts needed to be cut to plug a £2 million budget gap.

Members said it was the “least worst option”, because it meant no fire stations or fire engines would be lost.

But the Fire Brigades Union told the meeting on October 4 that the cuts would endanger both residents and crews.

FBU Avon brigade secretary Amanda Mills said householders would be left without adequate cover and that firefighters’ safety in life-or-death situations was on the line without the necessary resources.

She told the meeting at Avon Fire & Rescue Service headquarters in Portishead: “The reduction of 40 firefighters amounts to just over 10% of whole-time frontline staff.

“Should your constituents, who we serve, accept these dangerous cuts?”

Ms Mills said the savings, which would be made largely through reducing crew sizes from five to four on water tender ladders that attend incidents, would have a huge impact.

She said: “In a house fire, a fifth person is a crucial safety measure who monitors our air supply and sends vital messages back to our incident commander. At the scene of a road traffic collision, all five crew play a vital role.”

South Gloucestershire councillor Ben Nutland (Lib Dem, Yate North) said: “Reluctantly we are going to have to do this because by law we have to have a balanced budget – I will hate myself for doing this.”

Bristol city councillor Richard Eddy (Con, Bishopsworth) said: “I don’t believe a single member around this table wants to receive this report today or make this decision.”

He said the cuts were “the least worst option”.

Fire authority chairwoman Brenda Massey (Lab, Southmead) said: “We all feel similar about this  – it’s not something we would want to do but we have to do it and we will make the best out of it that we possibly can.”

Chief fire officer Simon Shilton said: “In an ideal world we would not have to make these difficult decisions but unfortunately the harsh reality is that we must take the funding we have and find innovative ways to use our resources.

“We will not compromise firefighter safety, we will work with trade unions to ensure we put the right policies and procedures in place while finding these efficiency savings.”

The job cuts will be made over the next three years by not replacing retiring firefighters, rather than redundancies.

Members voted 12-2, with one abstention, in favour of having four personnel on every pumping appliance at wholetime stations, apart from Hicks Gate, whose ladder vehicles would remain at five.

After the meeting FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said the union would “fiercely resist” the cuts.

Regional secretary Dave Roberts said the authority had “voted to put cost-cutting before public and firefighter safety”, adding: “Firefighters across the region are furious at this shameful decision.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service