EXCLUSIVE: Fire service in Northamptonshire '˜on the brink of collapse' claims union

Firefighters in Northamptonshire will be asked to consider taking industrial action at an emergency meeting this morning, after it emerged up to 25 frontline staff could be cut by January 2018.

Friday, 5th May 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:35 pm
Firefighters attending the Sixfields Tavern pub fire. NNL-150712-020734009

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is set to host a summit of members at Moulton Fire Station this morning after the plans came to light last week.

Senior union reps were called into a “duty review” to discuss ways the fire service could save £500,000 in this financial year.

The first proposal fire and rescue chiefs have floated is to cut between 20 and 25 full-time posts and reduce the number of firefighters on a crewed fire engine from five to four.

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But Ben Muddle, secretary of the Northamptonshire FBU branch, believes this flies in the face of the way staff are trained - and national safety guidance.

The union members will be asked to consider holding a ballot for industrial action at this morning’s summit, the Chronicle & Echo can reveal.

Mr Muddle said: “All of our training is geared towards having a crew of five.

“Now we are moving to a situation where that crew of five is almost impossible to achieve.

Fire at the Sixfields Tavern pub. NNL-150712-015944009

“What we are going to see is breathing apparatus teams being deployed into hazardous areas - but without the correct level of control measures on too many occasions.”

Mr Muddle says that, by riding a fire engine with just four firefighters, the crew will have to attend dangerous incidents without a dedicated Breathing Apparatus Entry Control Officer (BAECO).

These officers effectively monitor the firefighters sent into buildings to check whether they are breathing correctly, how much oxygen they have left - even whether they have become trapped.

Government guidance issued in 2009 stated that the role was “essential to the safe control and support of breathing apparatus operations”.

Fire fighters attending an incident in Fish Street.

The fire service saw 12 full-time firefighters cut at the start of April as part of the county council’s Community Protection Plan, which details ways of cutting a further £1.5 million from the service between now and 2020.

The blue light services’ total budget is just over £20 million.

Those staff cuts were made by axing the full-time crew of the Technical Rescue Vehicle sent out to major traffic collisions.

The county council also aims to save £300,000 by setting up a single joint fire control room serving Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.

Fire fighters tackling flames at a premises in Oliver Street, Northampton.

Though one control room worker told the Chron there could be as many as nine job losses from each.

Mr Muddle said that losing between 20 and 25 more firefighters would bring the service in Northamptonshire to the “brink of collapse”.

He said: “We believe that the imposed crewing levels of four as a blanket planning assumption will put firefighters and the communities in some areas of Northamptonshire and surrounding counties at unnecessary additional risk.”

Mr Muddle has sent a lengthy letter to the chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Paul Blantern detailing members’ concerns.

However, the county council said yesterday it could not comment on the FBU’s concerns as it was still in the local election campaign period.

Andre Gonzalez De Savage, the Conservative cabinet member with responsibility for the fire and rescue service in Northamptonshire when the Community Protection Plan was drawn up, also declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the review.

The results for the election will not be known until later today (Friday, May 5).

A cabinet report from February this year shows the county council needs to save a further £1.5 million from the fire service by 2020 and much of the Community Protection Plan shows plans to achieve this by working closer with Northamptonshire Police.

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Fire at the Sixfields Tavern pub. NNL-150712-015944009
Fire fighters attending an incident in Fish Street.
Fire fighters tackling flames at a premises in Oliver Street, Northampton.