Firefighters to hold strike ballot over control room cuts

FIREFIGHTERS could walk out on strike in a dispute over a move to cut a quarter of control room operators.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it had “lost trust” in management at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (SYFR) as it looks to cut eight of the 32 emergency call handlers.

The union will now ballot its members for industrial action over the proposals which it claims would put the public “at greater risk”.

Pete Smith, regional secretary of the FBU in Yorkshire, said: “Fire chiefs have lost the trust and respect of their staff through these savage cuts to fire control, leaving us with no option but to ballot for industrial action.

“Emergency control staff are the very first people you’ll speak to when you’re in an emergency.

"Firefighters rely on them to get all the vital information to perform a rescue as fast and efficiently as possible.

"They are an invaluable component of the lifesaving service firefighters provide. The public in South Yorkshire will be put at greater risk if these posts are cut.

“The recent scandal of high ranking - and highly paid – chief fire officers choosing to accept tens of thousands of pounds in overtime payments shows the complete disconnect between senior managers and the people working on the front-line. 

“Fire chiefs must learn that South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is not a dictatorship but a professional and valued public service.”

The FBU claim the changes have been proposed without “meaningful consultation or negotiation”.

Mr Smith said: “We have tried to resolve these issues locally by utilising the nationally agreed procedures in place but managers have dismissed them. It has left us little option but to lodge an industrial dispute with the fire authority.”

A spokesman for SYFR said the number of emergency calls it has received had almost halved in the last ten years.

He said the drop in the number of emergency calls handled from 23,217 in 2004/05 to 12,336 in 2013/14 and a "big reduction in funding" had led to the service to make a number of cutbacks.

He said: “The number of calls to our control room has fallen significantly in recent years. At the same time, we have had some big reductions to our funding and expect to lose a further £5 million from our annual budget over the next four years.

“We have already reduced the number of managers, back office staff and non-pay budgets, but must now look at other areas, including Control, to help protect the number of fire engines available to respond to 999 calls.

“Other, comparable fire services have similar numbers of control staff with no impact on their service to the public.”