Response times may slow, says fire chief

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FIRE stations could be downgraded and response times slow down in the wake of Government cuts, the region’s top fire officer warned.

The threat came on the day firefighters from across the county met MPs in the House of Commons to ask them to fight Government cuts to the fire service.

The cuts could see 140 firefighter posts shed over the next few years, if cost-cutting proposals put forward by fire chiefs get approved.

But chief fire officer Jamie Courtney - who has to save £4.7 million before April 2013 - admitted more changes to South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue could be needed in the future, if the Government presses ahead with plans to cut funding by even more in the final two years of a four-year budget overhaul - leaving his fire service needing to save at least £10 million by 2015.

He warned he may be forced to downgrade some full-time stations and staff them with retained firefighters to reduce his wage bill.

He said: “Sitting here as a chief fire officer, I know I have 17 whole-time fire stations and six retained, albeit there is a proposal to close one retained fire station.

“If the requirements for savings in years three and four are as high as they could be, I will be forced to look at making some of those whole-time fire stations retained.

“You can’t just close a fire station - if there are two fairly close together, potentially, you can replace them with one in the middle.

“Retained cover at a station is a significantly-less expensive option than having a whole-time workforce, but it brings with it an increase in the time it takes to respond to incidents.

“I am at the whim of the Government - if it follows through and backloads funding then I will have no choice.

“I cut my coat according to my cloth and I have to provide whatever service I can with the available finances.”

He said he is ‘comfortable’ with the level of impact proposals put forward to save the £4.7 million will have on the public, but said he ‘would be significantly less comfortable about having to deliver significantly more savings’.

Commenting on the cost-cutting proposals currently out to public consultation, including the closure of two of Sheffield’s busiest stations - Mansfield Road and Darnall - and replacing them with one purpose-built station, he said: “Our view is the proposals represent minimal impact in terms of the effect upon risk to the public of South Yorkshire.”

Mr Courtney said he is ‘struggling’ with the fact some fire services are having to save millions of pounds because of the way the Government has allocated funding, when some are receiving more than they used to.

He said he is ‘extremely concerned’ at the ‘inequality’.

The Government is due to announce its next set of funding cuts at the end of the year.