PLANS to reduce the number of firefighters per crew from five to four have been shelved — with bosses agreeing to look for other ways of plugging a £4 million shortfall.
The crewing cuts could still come into effect in 2020/21 if no viable funding alternatives are found, South Yorkshire Fire Authority decided on Monday (16).
But the Fire Brigades Union claimed an “esctatic” victory — having handed in a 12,000-name petition opposing the changes, which would see 84 job losses.
Branch secretary Neil Carbutt said: “We’re ecstatic that the fire authority has rejected these unacceptable cuts.
“South Yorkshire firefighters are committed to keeping the public safe, and these proposals would have seriously undermined our ability to do so.”
The union said South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has been “consistently underfunded” by the Government and more fairness was needed.
Police commissioner Dr Alan Billings, who sits on the fire authority, said more central cash had been obtained for the force through “valiant” lobbying efforts amid moral panic about rising violent crime.
He added: “There’s no equivalent in the fire service, you haven’t been able to play that card, other than Grenfell, which I’d have thought really stirred the public imagination.
“Something really ought to be made of that if you are going to lobby central government.”
Cllr Tony Damms, vice-chair of the fire authority, tabled a motion which was accepted unanimously.
He said: “The proposal is, for the remaining period of the 2019/20 year, to explore alternative methods to achieve the predicted budget shortfall, utilising reserves if necessary to smooth out any financial demand this may create.”
Chairman Cllr Robert Taylor said: “It’s going to take some work from the service, from the authority, from representative bodies. It needs to be collective responsibilty.”
Chief fire officer James Courtney added: “In responding to the consultation feedback, we’ve already described the savings made to protect frontline service and we will continue to explore further options, as directed by members.
“However, while we would rather not make any changes to our frontline service at all, we’re pleased that the fire authority has acknowledged that riding with four firefighters on a fire engine remains a viable solution should we be required to implement it.”
Mr Courtney admitted last week that resources were coming under increasing strain and called for a boost in funding after “massive cuts” over the past decade.
He added: “Our approach throughout austerity has been to protect frontline services as far as possible — in particular, the immediate 24/7 response from each of our existing full time fire stations.
“Inevitably though, the size of the cuts we’ve faced has meant we've had to reduce the number of firefighters we employ.
“We call upon government to ensure that fire services, including our own, are placed on a more secure and more sustainable financial footing in the future.”
The Fire Brigades’ Union noted an increase of 318 in the number of firefighters serving nationally — a one per cent rise — left the country with 11,500 fewer staff than nine years ago.
The overall number is 21 per cent down on 2010, with recent recruitment concentrated in London and the north west.