Leeds fire station closures ‘risk’

CONCERNS: FBU members David Williams (left) and Mark Wilson.
CONCERNS: FBU members David Williams (left) and Mark Wilson.
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Firefighters say planned station closures and cuts in Leeds will put lives at risk.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says Dewsbury, Batley and South Elmsall will also face higher risks because of station closures and reduced numbers of engines and firefighters due to Government cuts.

The union said a Leeds man who badly burned his hands in a flat fire recently could not be given first aid by the crew who attended because their new, smaller vehicle does not carry first-aid kit – unlike regular fire engines.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority’s budget is being slashed by 25 per cent – £18m – over the next four years. West Yorkshire will lose 300 of its 1,450 firefighters by 2015.

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The authority plans to close one of West Yorkshire’s busiest fire stations, Gipton, in East Leeds, and also Stanks, at Seacroft, and build one new station to cover both areas. Neighbouring Moortown loses one of its two appliances which is being replaced by a two-person car to target small fires. But the car has to cover the whole of Leeds.

Gipton firefighter David Williams, of the FBU, said: “It means that for an area of 200,000 people we will have just three fire engines instead of five.”

Station closures are planned at Hemsworth and South Emsall, where one new station will replace two, and similarly in Batley and Dewsbury.

FBU West Yorkshire Secretary Mark Wilson said the cuts would mean some fire engines taking longer to get to fires.

The union has helped the fire authority save more than £2m a year through staffing changes.

But Mr Wilson said: “When firefighters’ safety is at risk, when the public is being put at risk, we have to speak out.”

The union is working with MPs George Mudie (East Leeds), Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) and Jon Trickett (Hemsworth).

Mr Wilson said the cuts were politically targeted by the Government against big metropolitan districts.

“Some of the leafy shires have had their grants increased,” he said.

West Yorkshire Fire Authority said consultations on the cuts were continuing, but admitted station closures meant longer journeys for appliances on some occasions.

It said some of the proposals would improve performances, and that the safety of firefighters and the public was the top priority.

Steve Rhodes, who is in charge of risk management planning at the authority, said: “Between April 2011 and April 2015, approximately 250 firefighters will retire and leave the service.

“We have around 1,450 firefighters.

“That will reduce to about 1,150 in that period.

“The proposals enable us, as the number of firefighters reduces, to locate them in the best places.

“We cannot fight the fact that the number of firefighters and engines will reduce,” he said. “We have to identify the changes that have least impact on the community, then reduce that impact.”

He said the service’s community safety and fire prevention work has led to a reduction in incidents of 22 per cent, and in serious incidents of 42 per cent, between 2004 and 2010.