THOUSANDS of people have signed a petition demanding an end to 'dangerous cuts' to fire service staffing levels across the county.

The petition, launched by former watch commanders, has gained more than 3,300 signatures and calls on fire chiefs to stop cuts to the number of full-time firefighters on duty at night, across Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

Campaigners claim proposed changes would see numbers drop from 40 to 16 - a reduction of 60 per cent. The changes also remove 12 full-time and guaranteed available firefighters on call at night, meaning that in the case of Worcester, crews from the city have had to cover Malvern at night several times, leaving the city with only one full-time fire crew available.

However, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service say they are providing the same cover - even though the firefighters are no longer employed full-time.

And they blamed some of the changes on the Fire Brigades Union's refusal to strike a deal to keep the current system.

Saul Bolton, a former Malvern watch commander, says the cuts risk lives - both of those affected by fires and the firefighters themselves.

In the petition, Mr Bolton said: "We are a group of retired Fire Service Watch Commanders who fully understand the impact of these dangerous cuts, and are deeply concerned by the reduction of full-time fire cover at night in our two counties.

"We believe the lives of our firefighters, and the people they serve, will be put at risk if the Fire Authority push on with these drastic cuts, which will mean relying too heavily on the already overstretched retained staff."

He says there has already been several occasions where Malvern was unable to put a full crew together, meaning fewer on-call firefighters covering Worcester as they had to be diverted to cover the nearby town at night.

The petition is to be considered by the fire service as part of the wider consultation into crew changes across the two counties, and was submitted on June 14.

But campaigners say the proposals would leave Hereford and Worcester with just four full-time firefighters on duty at night instead of the current eight.

Other changes include changing duty systems at Malvern, Evesham and Droitwich fire stations.

The petition calls on the fire authorities to increase the number of full-time firefighters on duty at night in both Hereford and Worcester to 10 and to maintain the immediate availability of two fire appliances in each city.

Campaigners are also calling for immediate and guaranteed full-time night-time fire cover at Bromsgrove and to reinstate the Day Crewing duty system at Malvern, Evesham and Droitwich to provide full-time, guaranteed firefighters on call at night.

A fire service spokesman said a six week consultation with the public and fire service staff had been undertaken and had now closed.

He said: "The consultation sought views on the options to replace Day Crewing Plus because of a recent court ruling that makes it open to legal challenge.

"Since 2014, DCP has enabled HWFRS to maintain a 24/7 immediate response capability for the first fire engine at Bromsgrove Fire Station and the second fire engines at Worcester and Hereford Fire Stations.

"Using DCP instead of the traditional shift system to provide 24/7 response cover has enhanced DCP firefighters’ pay by 25 per cent, and saved £1.5 million per year from the HWFRS budget.

"However, a recent high court ruling on a similar duty system elsewhere in England has ruled that DCP breaches Working Time Regulations and so can only remain in use if the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) grants a local agreement to keep it in place.

"The FBU has made it clear that it is not willing to enter into such an agreement.

"The consultation included the publication of a document setting out the issue, together with proposed options on a way forward."

"With regards to the crewing at Evesham, Malvern and Droitwich the crewing arrangements changed in March 2019.

"In essence there is no change to the number of firefighters available or indeed the local fire engine response times.

"The changes relate to contractual issues as, following a recent legal ruling, the Authority can no longer insist that Wholetime firefighters on those stations provide night cover.

"In reality the same firefighters are continuing to provide exactly the same cover but on a voluntary basis for which they get paid.

"Due regard will be given to all the responses to the consultation which will go to the Fire Authority at the end of 2019."