Danger delays in fire strikes: South Yorkshire contingency crews take 50 per cent longer to respond

Firefighters tackle a blaze
Firefighters tackle a blaze
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Contingency crews called to life-threatening incidents during the firefighters’ strike in South Yorkshire are taking 50 per cent longer than regular crews to respond.

In one incident the response was nine minutes slower than the time it would take a regular crew of firefighters to arrive on scene.

The figures from 2014, revealed under The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign, come after the Fire Brigades Union announced a fresh 24-hour strike on December 9 - the 48th walk-out since 2013.

On average, it took South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service six minutes, nine seconds to reach to life-threatening callouts in Sheffield this year, and six minutes, 36 seconds to reach South Yorkshire jobs.

During strikes that rose to an average of nine minutes and 21 seconds across the county - roughly 50 per cent slower - with the slowest response time clocking in at 15 minutes.

Gill Matthews and her family were ‘caught out’ when their car went up in flames outside her house on Keepers Close, Shiregreen, Sheffield, during a strike in July.

Gill, her husband Michael, both 49, and their three children live near Elm Lane fire station, but with crews on strike volunteers took 11 minutes, 41 seconds to reach their house.

Despite the delay, Gill supports the crews, who are involved in a long-standing dispute over pensions.

The government wants firefighters to pay more into their pension pots and work until they are 60 instead of 55.

But firefighters say the plans will leave them at risk of dismissal as fitness levels decline into their 50s.

Gill said: “Firefighters have to strike because there is no other way the Government will listen to them, so we have no gripe with them at all.

“We were just unfortunate to have a fire during the strike. 
“We appreciate how invaluable the service is and support the firefighters in their effort to preserve it.”

South Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union chairman Graham Wilkinson admitted people were ‘less safe’ during the strikes.

But he said crews were walking out to protect public safety.

He said: “I can understand the public’s concern about safety. People are less safe during the strike periods.

“This is about the safety of the public because it’s about the future of the service.

“If the Government brings in the changes it’s going to be less safe for the public if you have 60-year-old firefighters who are maybe not fit enough to attend.

“It’s less safe for the members of the public who are going to be rescued by ageing firefighters.”

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service said: “During strikes we have fewer fire engines available meaning it inevitably takes longer to get to incidents. “Whilst we’re satisfied with the contingency plans we have in place for periods of industrial action, we would much rather have all of our fire engines available. 
“We hope the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible.”