A UNION secretary says penny pinching could lead to lives being put at risk as retained firefighters are relied on more to provide overnight cover at Worcestershire fire stations.

Last month the Worcester News reported on the cash strapped Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority needing to slash £2.4 million from its spending.

Steven Gould, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Worcestershire, says the latest cost cutting move has been a switch to a model where retained staff are relied on more for overnight cover, when it was previously full-time firefighters.

“Retained staff are fantastic - but the public need to be aware that are simply not trained,” Mr Gould said.

“They have a few hours firefighting training a week, but they have no water capability using boats or height training.

“They couldn’t carry out hill rescues, or live rescues on water.

“We believe this is penny pinching. This is a public safety issue.”

Mr Gould said the union raised concerns internally but despite this the service have pushed ahead.

But a Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue spokesman said full-time firefighters were still continuing to provide on-call overnight cover.

The spokesman explained that on occasions when there were insufficient firefighters to provide their primary response, the service used various options including the use of already on-call, retained firefighters, as well as the use of off-duty full time firefighters for additional payments.

Area commander Keith Chance said: “This is not a new system and policies consulted upon with the FBU covering both of these options have been in place for a number of years.

“Our on-call (retained) firefighters are trained to a high standard and are already available 24/7, so given the current financial situation, managers and staff have recently been reminded to make best use of public money and to use the no cost option wherever possible.

“Where different skills are required to keep specialist equipment available across the two counties, managers are still able to authorise the additional payment.

“Specialist boat and rope rescue teams are available at multiple locations therefore any short term deficiency can always be covered by other specialist teams nearby.”

“Additionally all firefighters (full-time and retained) crewing the 41 fire engines across both counties are fully capable of responding to and providing immediate assistance to any kind of emergency.”