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Fire service cuts will lead to crews attending blazes 'late'
LIFE-SAVING fire crews are expected to turn up ‘late’ at 14 emergencies in Worcester every year if nearly £5m of cuts are forced through, it emerged today.
Firefighters would take more than 10 minutes to reach nine building blazes and five road crashes - below the fire authority’s own targets.
Chief fire officer Mark Yates has also revealed that 28 per cent of the £4.7m of cuts over the next three years will affect front line services, and says he is being “forced” to accept them.
During a Q&A session before politicians at Worcestershire County Council this morning, he said the fire service was having to reluctantly accept reductions in Government funds.
In 2003 the Government scrapped its own national fire standards and asked each county or region to create its own.
Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service’s standards include the first fire engine getting to a call within 10 minutes 75 per cent of the time, and a second one arriving within the next five minutes.
Mr Yates said the cuts, which include removing one full-time appliance in Worcester, would result in 14 calls getting a first fire engine after 10 minutes.
In terms of the second vehicle, six would be late turning up at a building blaze, meaning it would take over 15 minutes to get there, as well as two road crashes.
“In my opinion, that first fire engine is the life saving one,” said Mr Yates.
He also told a meeting of the overview, scrutiny and performance board that he was not happy with the cuts being forced on them.
“The front line will be protected as much as we can, but there comes a time when we are forced, and it is forced, to look at the front line.”
He said he was satisfied the impact will be “relatively low” when considering the 1,400 calls made to fire crews in Worcester per year.
He was asked by Councillor Kit Taylor if the fire service had “made a rod for its own back” by having such high targets.
Mr Yates he could have changed them alongside areas like Shropshire, where 90 per cent of fire engines are expected to be at a call within 15 minutes, but admitted it would be “folly” to do so while the cuts were coming in.
“Obviously any reductions in fire engines do concern me, but I believe it will not have an overly detrimental impact,” he said.
He also told the panel he was in charge of “one of the worst funded fire authorities in the entire country”.
During the debate, he was also asked if the service would still respond to "Lawrence style fires" like the recent disaster in Kidderminster.
Mr Yates said if a repeat happened, there is a "range of fire stations" that could still respond, and that "dual turn out" from fire crews in bordering areas, such as the West Midlands, would be a possible outcome.
"That would not be unusual," he said.
The proposals include closing stations in Bewdley, Broadway, Kingsland and Whitchurch, reducing the number of engines on duty from 43 to 33, getting rid of one full-time appliance in Worcester, and 144 job losses.
It is out for public consultation and if finalised, will come into force from next year, and run for three years.
Some 72 per cent of the cuts will impact upon back office functions.
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