Chief fire officers warn of 'potentially catastrophic impact' of cuts

Exclusive: In the last financial year fire authorities cut 2,172 jobs - including 1,457 firefighters

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Chief fire officers from six of England's biggest metropolitan areas have issued a stark warning to ministers about the “potentially catastrophic impact” of continued cuts on the service.

The fire brigade leaders from cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool say more cuts will result in the sacking of front-line firefighters and longer response times.

The dire warning is contained in a submission to a review of spending by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), seen by Exaro, the investigative website, www.exaronews.com.

It says that fire services have already suffered “disproportionate cuts” by the government since April 2011 and claims if they continue at the same pace for the rest of the spending review period to 2015 then they will have a “potentially catastrophic impact”

The six officers, representing each of the authorities in the Association of Metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities (AMFRA), spell out the potential impact.

Steve McGuirk, chief fire officer of Greater Manchester, says: “A further 27 per cent disproportionate cut equates to a reduction of 11 whole-time crewed fire appliances, reducing frontline capacity by 24 per cent. All incidents requiring more than one fire appliance, which includes all domestic fires, commercial fires, secondary moorland/wild fires and other specialist incidents would have a slower effective response.

“This would significantly increase the total loss of domestic and commercial buildings, increase the risk to the safety of both front-line staff fighting fires and members of the public.”

Vij Randeniya, chief fire officer at West Midlands, warns: “We would find ourselves forced not only to cut prevention and protection programmes that have a very real benefit, but also to reduce significantly the standard of our emergency fire cover.

“This could only be achieved through sizable redundancies, which would almost certainly lead to strike action by firefighters. It is already a struggle to explain the reasons for such harsh cuts so far.”

In the last financial year fire authorities cut 2,172 jobs - including 1,457 firefighters, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Unions and managers both believe that if central Government grants continue to fall at the same rate then this will get much worse.

The 27 per cent grant cut will lead to more fires, fire deaths and injuries on Merseyside, said Merseyside's chief fire officer, Dan Stephens.

“Reductions in stations (38 per cent), appliances (40 per cent) and firefighters (43 per cent) will have a significant impact on our front-line emergency response and prevention work.”

The fire service has launched a parliamentary petition, which has attracted 2300 signatures, calling for the cuts to be halted.

Jamie Courtney, chief fire officer of South Yorkshire, said: “The extreme option of closing seven community fire stations would be necessary to absorb a further 27 per cent cut from the government grant.”

“There would be an increase in deaths and injuries due to longer attendance times.”

“The severe reduction within our prevention and protection function would have a major societal impact. The projected population increase combined with the ongoing depressed economic climate would result in more people dying in fires and road traffic collisions, were our work to combat these two issues to be discontinued.”

Tom Capeling, chief fire officer for Tyne and Wear, said: “A 27 per cent cut in grant will mean fewer appliances, spread more thinly across Tyne and Wear.”

“Response will be slower, and attendance levels will shrink as capacity is stretched, increasing risk to the community and firefighters.”

West Yorkshire's chief fire officer, Simon Pilling, said: “If the authority were to be faced with savings as great as 27 per cent, this could only be achieved through the 'ad hoc' and immediate closure of fire stations and the removal of appliances.”

“In addition, the only way that the additional 300 posts could be removed would be through compulsory redundancy of firefighters.”

A DCLG spokeswoman said it did not accept that cuts could not be made without impacting on the frontline.

“Fire services can make sensible savings without impacting on the quality and breadth of services offered to communities. Such savings can include more flexible staffing arrangements, better sickness management, sharing back-office services, improved procurement and sharing chief fire officers and other senior staff.”

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