Norwich lives at risk - claim firefighters

Shaun LowthorpeLives in Norwich could be put at risk under plans to reduce the number of engines after Bethel Street station closes, union leaders and city councillors have warned.Shaun Lowthorpe

Lives in Norwich could be put at risk under plans to reduce the number of engines after Bethel Street station closes, union leaders and city councillors have warned.

Around 80 firefighters from across the county took part in a demonstration outside County Hall yesterday to protest at the planned changes which would see 24 fewer fire fighters covering the city and the number of crews reduced from five to four when Bethel Street station is replaced by the new Carrow Station, in Trowse in 2011.

The plans, which will save �1.5m and see 42 posts lost overall, cleared their first hurdle after being approved by members of the council's fire and community protection overview and scrutiny panel.

Changes also include shifting a full time crew from Great Yarmouth to Gorleston to replace the existing retained crew while across Norfolk six retained stations will each lose two fire-fighters and there were be new smaller rescue vehicles, while a new second station is planned at King's Lynn.

Brigade bosses said the changes would help deliver better response times to incidents for the first crews and boost cover in rural areas.

But opposition councillors questioned the plans and warned that lives could be put at risk, and they said a decision should be put on hold until it was clear if a new unitary council for the city would be created.

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Andrew Boswell, Green group leader, said it was wrong to reduce fire cover in the city when at a time when there are plans to build more than 30,000 homes.

'They need to be thinking about the future and putting in more services, not taking them away,' Dr Boswell said.

Bert Bremner, Labour county councillor and executive member for community safety and cohesion at Norwich City Council, said he was concerned about the impact on fire cover in the greater Norwich area.

'We are going to have more jobs and more houses and they are talking about a 25pc cut in Norwich,' he said. 'If something big happens on the bypass and the Carrow station covers it, then all the appliances are gone.'

Jamie Wyatt, brigade secretary of Norfolk FBU, said firefighters had joined the protest because they were worried and angry about the cuts.

'These cuts could potentially lose 50 firefighters' jobs,' he said. 'If they cut these posts cover will be affected. They are making cuts which are purely financial,' he said. 'Our main concern is the safety aspect both of the crews and the public. It will take longer to deal with incidents and there will be more delays.'

Mike McCarthy, deputy chief fire officer, said the reduction in Norwich fire cover would have a 'low impact'.

'We have looked carefully at emergency cover in Norwich,' he said. 'We will still be achieving way beyond our current levels of performance for Norwich - it will be a minimal reduction.'

'What we don't have is the wide-ranging capacity to deal with incidents off road,' he added. 'What we are trying to achieve is greater levels of versatility.'

Members of the cabinet will consider the plans ahead of a public consultation in the summer with a final decision expected later in the year.