Firefighters share bosses job fears

FIREFIGHTERS have backed South Yorkshire’s fire chief after he warned that lives could be at risk if jobs are axed and stations closed because of drastic budget cuts.

Officials of the Fire Brigades Union this week supported Chief Fire Officer Mark Smitherman who predicted that Government budget cuts could endanger public safety and lengthen response times.

The coalition Government has proposed a plan to reduce public sector spending by 25 per cent.

Graham Wilkinson, acting brigade chairman of the South Yorkshire branch of the FBU, said: “We welcome the comments made by the chief fire officer and totally agree with him. “For the last ten years there has been a reduction in firefighter numbers and the closure of stations and we feel we have reached the limit.

“The Government has suggested a 25 per cent reduction in budgets and I can’t see any way round it without frontline services being affected.

“If there is a reduction in firefighter numbers and a closure of stations it would be detrimental to the public and we may see an increase in deaths.

“A recent study carried out by the national FBU showed a correlation between deaths of firefighters and cuts in firefighters’ jobs. “We have concerns for the safety of firefighters if there are fewer of them to respond to more incidents. Firefighter deaths and injuries may increase.

“Firefighters I have spoken to totally support the chief fire officer for speaking out and are glad he is fighting for them.” Mr Smitherman went public with his fears for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service yesterday, when he urged the Government to re-think its cuts.

He said he was standing up to defend staff and the safety of the public, pointing out cutting his budget by around £9m a year would “seriously threaten” the ability to keep all the county's fire stations open.

He said jobs would also face the axe and response times to incidents would inevitably increase with firefighters having further to travel to respond to 999 calls. The county fire service currently has an annual £60m budget, £36m from the Government and most of the rest from Council Tax contributions.

Bosses spend around £36m on full-time firefighters and £12m on control room staff, on-call firefighters and other staff costs. Another £12m is spent on stations, fire engines and equipment.