FIREFIGHTERS staged a demonstration outside a meeting in South Yorkshire before controversial plans to close four fire stations were given the go-ahead.
Crew members picketed the South Yorkshire Fire Authority meeting in Barnsley - which agreed proposals to axe 32 part-time firefighters, abolish three roving fire engines, and close Mansfield Road, Darnall, Mosborough and Royston stations.
Firefighter Mark Wild, aged 39, of Sheffield, who works at Mansfield Road, said: “This affects public safety. If these proposals go forward there will be areas lacking in protection as a direct result.
“We’re all local guys and we live in the areas we serve. This isn’t about pay or money, it’s about the safety of our loved ones.”
Fire Brigades Union member John Gilliver added: “We came here in the hope we could urge councillors to defer the decision.
“The cuts are not necessary - we’ve enough cash in reserves to see us through. We need to wait and see what the Government is going to give us in the next grant without making hasty cuts now.
“We’re here to save lives. These cuts mean we won’t be able to do that in the same way any more, and lives will be at risk.”
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Neil Hessell told the meeting 15,331 households should receive a better level of service as a result of the changes - but admitted 7,833 households could face longer response times.
A new fire station will be built on land where Sheffield Parkway meets Mosborough Parkway, and a second will be built in Birley.
Over the next few years 108 firefighters due to retire will not be replaced. Retained firefighters at Edlington in Doncaster will be axed.
Changes to night shift working were also approved, to be introduced initially at Lowedges station.
Fire chiefs have already had £4.7m sliced off their budget and been told to expect a larger reduction over the next few years.
Fifteen alternative cost-cutting proposals put forward by the public and fire service staff were rejected by fire authority members.
An 11th hour alternative suggested by Fire Authority member Paul Scriven, asking for yesterday’s vote to be deferred while a ‘single blue light service’ for South Yorkshire was debated, was also rejected.
But fire chiefs did admit they are in talks with other emergency services about sharing facilities, which Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney called ‘co-locating’.
Authority chairman Jim Andrews stressed the cost-cutting was the result of Government funding cuts. “People did not come on to this authority to shut down fire stations,” he said. “Once again it’s the Government cutting funding.”
n What do you think? See P15 for reaction in Birley.
n The Star opinion: P8