NO MORE COVER: 24-hour fire cover makes ‘no difference’
Birtley Community Fire Station in Gateshead, Image: NCJ Media
A move to keep 24-hour cover at a Gateshead fire station is set to go ahead, despite a warning that a new compromise will in fact make “no difference whatsoever”.
The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) had planned to remove round-the-clock staffing at its Birtley station, before the plans were halted last month after being labelled “completely unacceptable” by an MP and sparking a community backlash.
Bosses returned with new proposals on Monday morning to instead retain an on-call overnight crew for Birtley, who would be based at home and called into the station in the event of a blaze between 8pm and 8am.
That idea was backed by councillors on the area’s Fire and Rescue Authority.
However, a TWFRS report states that having the on-call system would in fact provide no more cover than only simply relying on overnight crews at neighbouring stations like Washington and Gateshead.
Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Tom Woodwark was critical of what he called “fig leaf politics”.
He told Monday’s meeting: “I understand people’s concerns about what they see as losing something. But the reality, from what is in the papers today, is that not a lot is changing.
“It is fig leaf politics. That’s fine, that’s great, but we have to realise that it is making no difference whatsoever to the actual fire cover in that community.”
Firefighters based at Birtley currently work on a shift pattern known as ‘day crewing close call’ (DCCC), in which crews work a 24-hour shift and stay in accommodation nearby the station so they can quickly respond to emergencies.
That system was deemed unlawful in 2018 after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) brought a successful High Court case against South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority.
TWFRS deputy chief fire officer Peter Heath told councillors on Monday that the current shift pattern must be phased out by March 31 next year and that the on-call proposal was “workable, practical, and affordable”.
Mr Heath told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it would be unlikely for an on-call crew to respond faster to a fire in Birtley than an overnight team based at Gateshead or Washington, but that the neighbouring crews would automatically be called in regardless for house fires as the service’s policy is to send two engines.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes told the authority meeting: “We know that there is full and comprehensive cover of all communities in Tyne and Wear.
“But clearly people have an extra level of reassurance if they know that their location has staffing around the clock.
“The on-call provision will provide the local community with that assurance.
“We have listened hard to the views of the people who expressed their views in the consultation process.
“I would thank Coun Haley, Liz Twist MP, and the other Gateshead councillors for their mature and sensible approach to discussing this with us.”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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