PLANS to cut fire cover in Redditch have been put on hold for a second time amid concerns about how the service will cope.
Councillors have demanded more information on how fire cover will be provided in future and for alternatives to the proposed cuts to be explored.
The idea of holding a referendum in May 2015 asking residents to vote on paying more in their council tax to avoid the cuts will also be examined ahead of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Authority’s next meeting in September.
The original proposals by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service would see the second retained fire crew at Redditch axed as well as those at Tenbury Wells and Ledbury, along with the second full-time crew at Worcester and Hereford in a bid to save £1.7million.
In February councillors agreed to take £485,000 from the authority’s savings to give officers time to look at how to minimise the impact of the proposals. At a meeting of the authority on Monday (June 9) it was outlined the cuts would still have to go-ahead but could be delayed for between two and five years.
However during an emotion charged meeting councillors voiced concerns there were alternatives which had not been considered.
They also claimed there was not enough detail about the availability of retained crews and what would happen if a significant number of retained firefighters left the service because work commitments meant they could not respond to increased call-outs.
Particular concern was expressed about the plan to leave Herefordshire with just one full-time crew, making it the only county in England with such poor fire cover.
Coun Jim Kenyon called the cuts the ‘biggest risk to life in Herefordshire since the Second World War.’
Coun Richard Udall added: “We must not rush this decision. If we do and we make the wrong decision lives are at stake.”
Steve Gould, secretary of the Hereford and Worcester branch of the FBU, said the public – over 16,000 of which signed a petition against the cuts – should get the final say through a referendum.
“The public pay our wages let them decide what fire cover they want. If they say they won’t pay for it then we’ve got no argument.” he said.
“We have got slim fire cover as it is, we are a very lean brigade. Cut us any further and we are no longer lean, we are getting to dangerous levels of fire cover.”
Chief Fire Officer Mark Yates said the latest delay would continue the uncertainty for staff.
“We will find some other options, whether they are acceptable to the fire authority, the staff and the trade unions is another matter.” he said.
“Underlying all this is the fact there is no more money.”