ROTHERHAM’S three MPs have backed fire union officials for speaking out about the risks of reduced overnight fire cover.
The issue of Rotherham’s reduced fire cover was brought up at Wednesday’s full council meeting as UKIP called for a return of the second night-time pump.
Since last March, only one of the Fitzwilliam Road station’s two fire engines has been staffed at night after South Yorkshire Fire Authority voted to cut cover levels.
Crews have to rely on appliances coming from neighbouring stations in cases of major fires, which means those areas are left without cover.
Pete Smith, acting executive council member of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Yorkshire and Humberside, said the public may be unaware of this continued impact of the cut.
“They will see the two appliances (at Rotherham Fire Station) and assume they’re working full-time but they’re not, due to staff shortages and under-funding,” he said.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said she was “alarmed” by the situation, adding: “This has a big impact, not just on Rotherham itself, but on the surrounding borough.
“It is worrying that some areas could be left with no appliance at all, as their crews are needed to assist elsewhere.
“Firefighters I have spoken to have all believed that should a tragedy like that at Grenfell Tower occur in South Yorkshire, they would struggle to mount an appropriate response with existing resources.”
John Healey , MP for Wentworth and Dearne, said: “The FBU is right to warn about the risk to public safety caused by government cuts to our fire service.
“After falling for decades, fire-related deaths have been going up again in the last three years.
“We’ve lost 210 firefighters in South Yorkshire since 2010, as ministers have cut SYFR’s budget by £12.5 million (nearly a third).
“And with more cuts to come, the fire service will have to call on their reserves just to get by.
“The government is literally playing with fire.”
Rother Valley MP Sir Kevin Barron said: “I believe it is essential that the FBU warn people about the risk caused by government cuts to our fire service.”
Deputy chief fire officer Martin Blunden said: “We’re trying to provide the best cover to the whole of South Yorkshire, within our budget.
“Across the county, and against a £12 million budget cut since 2010, we’ve maintained a very good response.
“I understand why people might see this as Rotherham losing out, but I don’t believe that’s the case.”
He added: “The reality is that, as a service, we can’t afford to maintain the stations the way we used to. We have to resource areas by risk.
“We have 19 stations which are single pump at night, like Rotherham, but they are all backed up by other stations. It’s about being dynamic.”
Mr Blunden said South Yorkshire received “disproportionately less” money from central government than similar services elsewhere.
“We have made that point to MPs and ministers,” he said. “West Midlands is able to maintain a five-minute response time.
“We have said we want to provide the best service, but to do so we need to be funded in the same way as other services.
“They have said it’s an interesting point, but the money hasn’t been forthcoming.”
He added: “We’re doing the best we can with our resources to give people the best possible service and we’ll continue to do so, but it’s quite difficult.”
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