Torquay fire cuts "could put lives at risk"
FIREFIGHTERS in Torquay face a new round of cuts which they claim will increase response times and put lives at risk.
The station will lose a full-time response crew if the cost-cutting plans by Devon and Somerset Fire Service are agreed.
The station currently has two engines which are manned full-time and a third used by a part-time or retained crew.
Proposals due to be discussed tomorrow at fire service headquarters in Exeter would cut the second fire engine from full-time to on-call.
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While fire chiefs insist Torquay will retain its three-pump cover, firefighters at the station claim the plans would effectively see the third pump mothballed leaving the town with just two machines.
A spokesman for the Torquay station said: "Our main cause for concern is we are losing our second full-time appliance.
"We understand the need to be able to try to fill the funding gaps, but there is a fine line between doing that and putting the public at risk and we feel that this is a step too far.
"There are inherent dangers of taking away one pump. It is increasing danger to members of the public by taking away cover."
Firefighters in Torquay were called together last week to hear bosses outline the plans.
They were told the service needed to make cuts of £5.5million due to a drop in Government funding.
As a result, a proposal has been made to cutback the number of full-time pumps at three stations in Plymouth as well as ones in Ilfracombe and Torquay.
No jobs will be lost, with firefighters re-deployed to fill gaps and fire safety duties elsewhere in the counties.
A special fire authority meeting tomorrow will decide whether to go ahead with a public consultation on the plans. A final decision is likely to be made in the summer.
The station spokesman added: "There are inherent dangers in what they are proposing with regard to the time-scale of getting resources to incidents.
"We feel it is the case that lives will be put at risk. We won't be able to turn out two fire appliances immediately — the other would now be on-call.
"Our standard of cover is currently 10 minutes for the first pump and 13 minutes for the second. We feel there are some areas of Torquay where this time will be extended and that is our concern."
The service proposal states the 'same number of fire engines will remain available' with the third appliance crewed as and when needed.
Chief fire officer Lee Howell said: "The changes we propose aim to strike the balance between making savings and maintaining public safety.
"These are difficult times and difficult choices are needed. The status quo is simply not an option given the need to significantly reduce the budget."
Firefighters have met Torbay MP Adrian Sanders. He has now written to fire chiefs to clarify what the proposals would mean.
The letter says: "Although, as I understand it, the third engine will physically remain in place in the Torquay, as it will be permanently unmanned it will equate to a significant loss of fire fighting capacity."
But he said he understood the financial difficulties.
The Fire Brigades' Union has reacted furiously to what it calls 'the most savage cuts ever'.
Trevor French, Devon and Somerset FBU secretary, said: "Rather than just accept these enormous cuts forced upon us by central Government, the fire authority along with chief fire officer Lee Howell should tell the coalition government this scale of cuts is unacceptable, risks destroying the fabric of this important service, and ultimately puts more lives at risk."