Fire authority leaders gathering today to agree jobs losses and station closures have been told they must think again.
Tyne and Wear’s Labour-dominated fire authority says it has no choice to but to agree to 131 job losses in order to save £8m.
But Labour MP Dave Anderson has hit out at members set to push through dangerous budget cuts while the authority sits on £32m of reserves.
Fire chiefs have insisted the money in the bank must be used to pay for training and new equipment, and any use of it to offset the cuts would only delay job losses.
That argument has angered the local Fire Brigades Union, which said refusing to use up saving will mean the authority rushes into cuts and puts lives at risk.
Blaydon MP Mr Anderson said the authority had to think again before having a final say on three cuts options later today.
Mr Anderson said: “131 job losses of front line staff and a 20% cut in equipment will cost lives and curtail essential preventative work.
“It will also put front line firefighters at greater risk. This is untenable when the authority is sitting on reserves of up to £32m.
“This is earmarked for special projects, including paying for new buildings. Surely these can be delayed until we are in a better position financially? And what reaction does the fire authority expect MPs to get from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles when we say, correctly, that we are being starved of resources?
“He will instantly hit back by saying you must be doing OK you’ve got 35 million quid in the bank. I do empathise with the authority but they should heed the responses to the consultation and the widespread feelings across Tyne and Wear and put frontline services first.”
Last week it emerged Dave Turner, secretary of the regional FBU, and chairman Russ King, had told fire chiefs that they and their members thought it was an “inescapable conclusion that the fire service will not be able to provide the same level of protection to the public of Tyne and Wear or to staff should the front line response be cut any further.”
Councillors on the fire authority will today agree which cuts option to pick, with all seeing 131 jobs go.
Six fire engines will go and on some nights, when the service typically sees fewer call-outs, there will be two further fire engines “stood down”.
The number of specialist aerial ladder engines will also be reduced from three to two.
The second option would see all the above changes added to further plans to replace two community fire stations in Wallsend and Gosforth with one station, possibly in Benton. Option three sees Sunderland Central fire station added to the cuts list. The additional cuts see some extra staffing to make up for the changes.
Many of the proposals include replacing fire engines with smaller “targeted response vehicles,” often specially fitted 4x4s or large vans, which respond to less dangerous situations with smaller crews. Across Tyne and Wear 33 staff members told their bosses they did not believe the new mini-fire engines could keep either firefighters or the public safe in a life threatening situation, with some saying the equipment had been shown to have “failed” in other areas.