The county council is to consult on proposed changes to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, which could see smaller appliances being introduced in Alnwick, Seahouses and Wooler.
The service has to save £500,000 in 2016/17 on top of the £1.5million already cut over the last two years as a result of reductions in the council's budget by central government.
One of the areas being consulted on is replacing the second retained (on-call) fire appliance in Alnwick and the retained (on-call) fire appliances at Seahouses and Wooler with smaller fire appliances. Alnwick will continue to have a retained (on-call) appliance as well as the smaller fire appliance.
The smaller appliances can attend all of the incidents the larger, traditional fire appliances can attend. With the introduction of flexible staffing arrangements, the appliances could respond to certain incidents staffed by less than four firefighters; as a result, it will increase the amount of times they are available and enhance the emergency response cover. The smaller appliances are also much more cost-effective to lease and run than larger traditional fire appliances.
There will be no changes to stations in Amble, Belford, Rothbury and Holy Island.
The council’s cabinet meeting on Thursday, November 19, will discuss the proposed changes and be asked to agree a 12-week period of consultation on the proposals.
Dave Ledger, chairman of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Authority and deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: "We fully accept that incidents have reduced significantly over the last ten years and thankfully people are safer than ever before from fire.
"However, we still have a responsibility to provide a service according to the risk and to work with residents and businesses to prevent fires from happening in the first place. We also need to be confident we can respond to any large-scale incident or emergency; such as the floods, and dealing with road traffic collisions continues to be a large part of our emergency response service. Making these cuts is not something we want to do – we simply have no choice.
"Since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power, the fire and rescue service in Northumberland alone has had its budget cut by £3million, now we have to save a further £500,000. Even as the country’s smallest fire and rescue service, we simply cannot keep on cutting in this way. We have a legal duty to provide a service, but it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain and that's before we hear later this month how much more we will have to save in the Chancellor's spending review."
Alex Bennett, chief fire officer for Northumberland Fire and Rescue, said: "The safety of the public and our firefighters is our number one priority. In developing these proposals, we've carried out detailed analysis and used our professional expertise as firefighters. Should the proposed changes be approved, we will continue to have 21 emergency response vehicles across the county and, through the introduction of smaller fire appliances, in some areas we will be able to increase the cover we provide.
"In developing the proposed changes, we have sought to make the required savings in a way which has the least impact on our communities. We have looked in detail at incidents our firefighters have attended and the risks, such as flooding and the East Coast rail line, as well as the cover provided by our fire stations. We have also analysed the location of incidents - many of our incidents are around the main roads - and which firefighters and stations have attended them; this is to ensure there is effective cover across the whole of the county.
"We have already reduced our whole-time firefighting resource, our management and back-office function so the proposed changes are as a result of a review of our retained (on-call) firefighting service. Subject to cabinet approval, we will be carrying out consultation on the proposed changes over the next few months and we welcome people's views."