FIREFIGHTERS will be able to reach emergencies in Sheffield more quickly - but 140 jobs are to be axed under new plans announced today, The Star can reveal.
One in every seven full-time firefighting posts will be slashed, and another one in four retained firefighters will lose their jobs, as South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service tries to implement Government funding cuts of £10 million a year by 2015.
Axing 108 full-time firefighters and 32 retained firefighters will bring the South Yorkshire brigade down from 877 to 734, according to proposals that go before the South Yorkshire Fire Authority on October 31.
But analysis of response times has shown that a reorganisation of Sheffield’s fire station locations will actually lead to better coverage for residents in the east of the city.
Fire chiefs are planning to close two of Sheffield’s busiest stations - Mansfield Road and Darnall - in 2014/15, and also close the retained station in Mosborough.
They will also shut the part-time station in Royston near Barnsley and cut the retained duty officers based in Edlington near Doncaster.
The service will have to pay out an initial £3.6 million to bring the changes into force - but can then look forward to an annual saving of £4m a year.
Even after the proposed cuts, which will bring the planned savings up to £7m a year, the brigade will have to find a further £3m.
Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney said his team has saved £2.8m by cutting management and administration costs by a quarter - making 40 support staff redundant.
He said they are now left with no option but to start looking at frontline services.
And he stressed the construction of two new stations on the Sheffield Parkway and in Birley will improve coverage in the east of the city.
Because the new stations will both be on main roads, residents living in Handsworth, Woodhouse, Tinsley and parts of Darnall, Hackenthorpe and Owlthorpe will be in areas which firefighters can get to within their target time of six minutes.
Mr Courtney said there were no plans to make full-time firefighters redundant. The aim is to lose the posts through natural wastage: “Having already committed to large savings in management and administration costs, we have nowhere else left to look for the rest of the savings.
“Firefighter costs represent by far the largest part of our budget.
“The challenge to us is to reduce the number of firefighters we employ while having the minimum possible impact on our emergency response service.
“We have thoroughly researched all the options and I am satisfied that, in my professional opinion as a firefighter with over 20 years’ service, these proposals will help us reduce our costs with the minimum impact on service delivery.
“They enable us to make some significant savings while maintaining our absolute commitment to providing a first-class emergency response service, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
The changes come after a period in which the number of fires in South Yorkshire has plummeted.
In the last seven years the number of accidental house fires has dropped 34 per cent from 1,004 in 2003/4 to 665 during 2010/11. And the numbers of deaths and injuries in house fires has fallen from 155 to 56 - a drop of 64 per cent.
The number of arsons has fallen 66 per cent - from 15,463 to 5,266.
If the plans are agreed they will go out for a 12-week public consultation before being implemented.