‘There’s no simple solution’ to funding the fire service – that was Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett’s warning to parish councillors in Seahouses.
The fire chief was at Monday night’s meeting of North Sunderland Parish Council to explain and answer questions on the proposed cuts to the fire service.
It is the latest in a series of meetings, such as area committees and town and parish council meetings, aimed at reassuring the public that the changes will result in a service that remains fit for purpose.
CFO Bennett highlighted that the latest proposals are to save £500,000 from the budget in 2016/17, on top of £3million cut since 2010; 50 whole-time firefighters have been lost in the past 10 years.
The new cuts focus on the county’s retained service – more prevalent in the rural north – and propose the removal of one fire engine from West Hartford and the closure of Haydon Bridge Fire Station.
Elsewhere, a number of retained fire appliances are to be replaced with smaller engines and this is what is proposed for Seahouses.
The smaller appliances still carry 90 per cent of the equipment of the larger trucks, but can operate with less than four crew (the current minimum) if required.
CFO Bennett explained that two or three crew would be sufficient to deal with many smaller incidents, while it could mean that the fire engine in Seahouses is available more often, as less retained firefighters would need to be available.
Coun Sylvia Hillan queried the impact on jobs and was assured that at this stage, it meant no changes to staffing at Seahouses.
She also asked why the fire service couldn’t be run as a separate authority so that it was immune from county-council cuts.
CFO Bennett explained that it was a complicated process and many fire authorities are struggling with cuts anyway. “There’s no simple solution to say we could change the type of fire service we are.”
Coun David Shiel asked why Belford was keeping its full-size appliance while Seahouses, which is near to Beadnell and Bamburgh, will get a smaller fire engine.
CFO Bennett said: “We have proposed something which gives the best countywide coverage.”