Councillors approve plans to cut 40 firefighters to plug £2million budget gap
Councillors have reluctantly approved plans to decimate Avon’s full-time frontline firefighters despite warnings that it will put lives and homes at risk.
Avon Fire Authority committee heard 40 posts needed to be cut to plug a £2million budget gap.
Members said it was the “least worst option” because it meant no fire stations or fire engines would be lost.
But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) told the meeting on Wednesday, October 4, that the cuts were “dangerous” and endangered both residents and crews.
FBU Avon brigade secretary Amanda Mills said householders would be left without adequate cover and that firefighters’ safety in life-or-death situations was on the line without the necessary resources.
She told the meeting at Avon Fire & Rescue Service headquarters in Portishead: “The reduction of 40 firefighters amounts to just over 10 per cent of wholetime frontline staff.
“Should your constituents who we serve accept these dangerous cuts?”
Ms Mills said the savings, which would be made largely through reducing crew sizes from five to four on water tender ladders that attend incidents, would have a huge impact.
“In a house fire a fifth person is a crucial safety measure who monitors our air supply and sends vital messages back to our incident commander,” she said.
“At the scene of a road traffic collision, all five crew play a vital role.”
She said more wildfires and flooding were expected because of climate change while the population served by firefighters increased every year.
“Can we really be expected to do more with less?” Ms Mills asked councillors.
“Firefighters help people in their hour of need and should not be bystanders waiting for additional resources to arrive.
“When waiting times for a fire engine increase, so does the ferocity of a fire, leaving less chance for survival should anyone need rescuing, and putting firefighters at greater risk.”
She said the FBU would not stay silent while AFRS “makes do with inadequate funding” and that the union was committed to fighting for more government money but that the fire authority must stand with it.
South Gloucestershire Cllr Ben Nutland (Lib Dem, Yate North) said: “When we talk about ‘efficiencies’ we talk about cuts, and you can only make so many efficiencies before things really start to hurt.
“We are an incredible organisation with incredible people who do incredible things day after day.
“Reluctantly we are going to have to do this because by law we have to have a balanced budget – I will hate myself for doing this.
“We can send a message to the government saying we need proper funding because if we don’t, we will be in a much worse position than we currently are.”
Bristol city Cllr Richard Eddy (Conservative, Bishopsworth) said: “I don’t believe a single member around this table wants to receive this report today or make this decision.
“But equally we can’t play Pontius Pilate – we have a statutory duty to maintain a balanced budget and very reluctantly it does seem that the officer recommendation is the least worst option.
“No fire station will be closed, no fire appliance taken off the road.”
Fire authority chairwoman and Bristol city Cllr Brenda Massey (Labour, Southmead) said: “We all feel similar about this – it’s not something we would want to do but we have to do it and we will make the best out of it that we possibly can.”
Chief fire officer Simon Shilton said: “We are looking at how we can do things differently to ensure we meet efficiency savings required, reinvest in areas to be more agile and make our service stronger and communities safer.
“In an ideal world we would not have to make these difficult decisions but unfortunately the harsh reality is that we must take the funding we have and find innovative ways to use our resources.
“We will not compromise firefighter safety, we will work with trade unions to ensure we put the right policies and procedures in place while finding these efficiency savings.”
The 40 firefighters to be cut will be made over the next three years through retirements and not redundancies.
Members voted 12-2, with one abstention, in favour of having four personnel on every pumping appliance at wholetime stations, apart from Hicks Gate whose ladder vehicles would remain at five, subject to “any unforeseen risk to service delivery to the public and firefighters” or unless the funding position improves and the plans can be abandoned.
Two other proposals were agreed unanimously – flexible crewing at Yate wholetime fire station and investing in a smaller vehicle to respond to automatic fire alarms in Bristol instead of sending a standard fire engine.