Fire engines axed in row over shifts

Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
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Fire engines have been taken out of action in South Yorkshire because of firefighters refusing to work a new shift pattern.

Chiefs said the decision to take two engines ‘off the run’ at Rotherham and Barnsley had been made because of firefighters objecting to living at fire stations for four-day stretches.

Bosses had wanted to introduce a system known as ‘close-proximity crewing’ which would have seen night shifts axed at some stations.

Firefighters working days would have remained at their stations in living accommodation on an on-call basis, to respond to emergency calls in the evenings and early hours.

Fire chiefs claim the move would have saved £400,000 for each station involved.

A trial was due to have got under way this month at Low Edges fire station in Sheffield and Aston Park in Rotherham, but the Fire Brigades Union objected and the move was shelved.

If the trial had gone ahead and proved a success the new shift pattern would have continued at the two stations and the plan was to introduce it at one of two new stations due to be built in Sheffield – either off The Parkway or at Birley.

A South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue spokesman said if the new shift pattern does get introduced, the mothballed engines could be brought back into service again.

He said: “We were planning to begin a six-month trial of a new duty system that would enable us to continue staffing all our fire engines with a reducing number of firefighters.

“Some 28 firefighters volunteered to participate in the trial, which would have given them a 30 per cent pay enhancement for additional availability, while reducing our overall costs in line with Government cuts.

“However, we have not been able to begin the trial because of a last-minute dispute lodged by the Fire Brigades Union.

“Unfortunately, our only available alternative is to remove the second fire engines at Barnsley and Rotherham fire stations until either the trial can take place, or alternative arrangements are made.”

About 50 firefighters and union officials protested against the loss of the pumps before members of South Yorkshire Fire Authority made the decision.

Neil Carbutt, FBU South Yorkshire secretary, said: “We are disappointed both pumps have been taken off the run, albeit Rotherham’s will supposedly be used when staffing levels allow.

“There is £20 million in reserves and there has been an underspend on salaries every year since 2008, so we believe the money exists to keep these pumps.

“The fire authority recently released £2 million for a new community fund, but I believe if members of the public were asked what they would rather this money was spent on, they would say frontline firefighters every time.”

Fire chiefs claim changes are needed to reduce costs following Government funding cuts.

They say as firefighters retire they can no longer afford to replace them, and they have projected how many members of staff they will have over the next few years.

Close-proximity crewing was hailed as a way of reducing the number of operational firefighter posts needed to bring them in line with future projections, by halving the numbers needed at a full-time operational stations from 28 to 14.