Fire stations up in smoke

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A DECISION to close Hemsworth and South Elmsall fire stations as part of cost-cutting measures has been condemned by community members.

A plan to replace the two stations with one in South Kirkby was given the go-ahead by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority on Friday, despite strong public opposition.

The changes will lead to the loss of 23 jobs - 11 full-time posts and 12 retained duty system posts - although the fire service has said these will be through planned retirements.

The plan had been opposed by Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett, the Fire Brigade Union, members of South Elmsall, Hemsworth, South Kirkby and Upton town and parish councils, and Wakefield Council. More than 200 people attended public meetings held to challenge the proposal after Mr Trickett demanded more public consultation from the fire service.

Mr Trickett said: “No case for improved fire safety has been made in these proposals, which boil down to a question of trying to save money. There has been inadequate public consultation - the three meetings in our area would not even have taken place if I hadn’t insisted.

“I have no choice but to condemn the decision that has been taken as it is greatly regrettable.”

The changes, which will take up to four years to put into place, are part of wider reforms, which will see a further eight stations closed across the county in a bid to save £4m a year.

The authority is faced with a loss of £18m in government funding between now and 2016.

South Elmsall and Hemsworth stations were axed as the service said both areas were classed as low risk and that operational demand was reduced by 36 per cent between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010.

It also claimed that the new station will improve performance of fire appliance attendance times in Hemsworth and allow for an increase in community safety activities in the area.

The new station, which could be located on Hemsworth Road, will have one full-time frontline fire engine and an additional back-up engine that will be manned during peak demand. There is currently one engine at Hemsworth and one at South Elmsall.

Mark Wilson, secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: “We are very disappointed by the decision. We thought we had put a good case forward to challenge the proposals. But until the new station is built and the fire engines have moved then we will keep fighting against the changes. It is much harder now but not impossible.

“We would like to offer our thanks to the councils of Hemsworth, South Elmsall, South Kirkby and Upton and Jon Trickett during our campaign to save the stations.”

Chief fire officer Simon Pilling, from the fire and rescue authority, said that while he fully understood the concerns of people who had objected he remained convinced that the plans were operationally sound and in the best long-term interests of the brigade.

He said: “Of course we could have sat back, grumbled about our grant allocation, and done nothing but the reality is that we haven’t had the cash to recruit since 2009 and are fast approaching the point where we will not be able to crew the full fleet. Many of our fire stations would then become glorified garages, unable to turn out an appliance.

“My proposals will spread us a little more thinly but still enable us to deliver a first-class emergency service across the whole of West Yorkshire.

“No-one is more disappointed than me that we are having to make such fundamental changes, so fast, but no credible alternative has been put forward. I have done everything in my power to try and find a solution which meets community risk, protects firefighter safety and avoids the need for the compulsory redundancy of full-time firefighters.”