EXTRA ENGINE: Creating 54 new fire service jobs
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer, Image: LDRS
Fire service bosses have backed plans to create more than 50 new jobs – and halted a “completely unacceptable” move to axe one station’s 24-hour staffing.
The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) will be recruiting up to 54 new firefighters under proposals that involve an extra engine being based at West Denton Community Fire Station in Newcastle, plus staffing two specialist units.
Those plans were agreed at a Fire Authority meeting on Monday morning, where councillors also told service bosses to rethink the removal of overnight staffing from Birtley fire station in Gateshead.
That idea had been met with considerable opposition from locals and from Blaydon MP Liz Twist, who wrote to TWFRS to say she was “extremely unhappy”.
The Labour MP said: “You will, of course, remember that it is not very long since we lost a second appliance from Swalwell station, also in my constituency, and it seems to me completely unacceptable that we should now see a further reduction in service to the communities in my constituency.”
Just 27% of the 517 people who responded to a public consultation on the scheme were supportive of the plans.
At Monday’s meeting, Gateshead councillor Gary Haley asked for the Birtley proposal to be rethought in light of the “great deal of passion” shown by its community and for alternatives to be brought forward that would protect overnight provision.
Chief fire officer Chris Lowther agreed to bring back revised plans in October, but pointed out that Birtley’s current crewing arrangements could not continue as they have been deemed unlawful.
Firefighters based at Birtley and Rainton Bridge currently work on a shift pattern known as ‘day crewing close call’ (DCCC), in which crews work a 24-hour shift during which time they stay in accommodation nearby the station so they can quickly respond to emergencies.
That practice was deemed unlawful in 2018 after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) brought a successful High Court case against South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority.
Mr Lowther said that the proposal to reduce Birtley’s crewing to a 12-hour day shift only was the “most operationally efficient” option, but that he would return with a new proposition that would maintain round the clock staffing.
Proposals under the brigade’s Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for 2021-24 included changing shift patterns at Rainton Bridge too, though without removing its 24-hour provision.
The IRMP also makes permanent a pilot scheme that has seen an extra fire engine stationed in West Denton and permanently staffing two aerial ladder platforms (ALPs), specialist appliances used to respond to incidents at a height.
Councillors who sit on the Fire Authority approved the plans for West Denton, Rainton Bridge, and the ALPs, but asked for the Birtley changes to be revised.
Coun Tony Taylor, the authority’s chair, said it would be “doing the public a disservice” if Birtley plans were not reconsidered.
Newcastle City Council deputy leader Karen Kilgour added that it was “incredibly positive” for the service to be creating more than 50 new jobs, following years of cutbacks that fellow Newcastle representative Tom Woodwork described as “having to cut to the bone and sometimes beyond the bone”.
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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