Cuts to fire crews in South Yorkshire would be reversed if finances improve, service chiefs told
A move to cut fire engine crews from five to four is being recommended to go ahead in South Yorkshire – but with a promise the move will be reversed if the brigade’s finances improve in future.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been hit by a combination of financial pressures, caused by austerity cuts, the prospect of increased pension expenses and a bill for replacing a cost-saving shift pattern introduced at some stations and later declared unlawful following a legal challenge.
In total, those problems could leave the service with £4m to find.
That left senior officers looking for more savings in an organisation which had already been stripped back and their only option was to suggest reducing crews on fire engines from five to four – something the Fire Brigades Union has opposed on safety grounds.
Normally, the first fire engine sent to incidents like housefires will have a crew of five on board, with the second carrying four people – enough to conduct firefighting and rescue operations in safety.
Reducing crewing to four across the board will mean three fire engines will be needed to make up that total, though the service has stressed previously their crews would not wait for the third crew to arrive before going into action.
Consultations have been conducted over the summer to look for potential alternatives to the plan but members of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority are now being asked to approve the change when they meet on Monday (September 16).
One change is that service bosses are now proposing the cuts are introduced only as is deemed necessary to balance the books. Uncertainty over future costs means, in effect, some crews may never get cut to the new standard.
In addition, there is a pledge that if brigade finances improve there would be a move to re-introduce current staffing levels.
Service chiefs have also suggested using new technology to help prop up fire crews dealing with emergency incidents.
A report to be considered by fire authority members states: “The service has been clear that it would rather not make any changes at all to its frontline service.
“However, because the bulk of its spending is on its emergency response service, some changes in this area are inevitable given the size of the annual cost pressures it faces.
“The service’s main proposal is to reduce the number of firefighters on a fire engine from five to four. No firefighters would be made redundant, with the reduction achieved gradually via natural attrition as staff leave or retire.
“Four person crews have been adopted as standard by at least 17 other fire and rescue services nationwide. Further, it is already being used in South Yorkshire more than a third of the time and is easily reversible if the service’s funding situation improves.”
According to the service, the only other option to save enough money would be to reduce the cover provided by some fire stations from the current round-the-clock availability, “putting the public at greater risk”, states the report.
Money from the service’s reserves, or cash savings, will be used to “implement appropriate technological improvements”.