A fire chief has warned that lives will be lost after plans to cut 131 jobs to meet £8m Government cuts.
Appliances will be scrapped and fire stations closed as the area’s chief officer admits the service’s impressive fire safety record will be put at risk.
It comes after a lengthy lobbying effort aimed at convincing Whitehall that Metropolitan fire services such as Tyne and Wear faced disproportionate cuts.
Fire chiefs have met with staff to go over the potential for redundancies as part of a series of spending reductions which will see around 23% of the force budget reduced over seven years.
“There is no way around it, removing fire engines will impact on our response time,” chief fire officer Tom Capeling said last night.
His force is looking at a series of options over the next three years which will save at least £5m at the cost of 131 jobs.
Among the changes are the introduction of smaller vehicles with, in some cases fewer staff, to deal with lower level call-outs.
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.
Mr Capeling said that after successive cuts making the savings would only get harder.
“We have always aimed to protect the frontline since 2010, and our response service is among the best in the country. But we can no longer protect the response that we provide.”
As such, Mr Capeling revealed, incidents coming into to fire stations will be assessed for their severity and if the incident is not thought to be life threatening it will be handed a lower response target.
There was an admission though that this would have a wider impact. Mr Capeling said some would argue that Tyne and Wear had a good record in fire prevention, and that this would justify reducing the number of engines.
He said: “You can’t do that. You can’t just reduce engines because fires have gone down. It does not work like that. Any reduction in the number of fire engines will make us slower.”
He added: “We will be a slower, this increases the risk if someone has a fire.”
Last night North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon hit out at the Government cuts which forced the fire brigade into three years of cuts.
She said: “The Government has placed Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service in an impossible position by forcing it to close two fire stations and reduce emergency response times. The Government is shamefully risking the safety of people in North Tyneside. I am also worried about the impact these cuts will have on the wonderful work of the firefighters in educating people about preventing fires in the first place.”