‘Cuts putting lives at risk’

A FIRE brigade worker claims lives are being put at risk following changes made to control room operations after savage budget cuts.

Cleveland Fire Brigade was forced to slash £9m from its £33m budget back in May when Government cuts were announced, meaning 180 frontline jobs were under threat.

While all efforts are being made to reduce the impact of the cuts, the number of staff working in the Brigade’s control room at its Queens Meadow Busines Park headquarters was reduced from 24 to 20.

From October 1, a contract will be run by Redcar and Cleveland Council which will see agency staff initially taking non-emergency calls before being trained to deal with 999 calls.

Fire brigade chiefs insist the changes will not impact on the service provided, but an anonymous letter sent to the Mail claims the reduction in staff will “put lives at risk”.

It was also sent to MPs across the Tees Valley, including Hartlepool’s Iain Wright

The letter reads: “Members of the control room raised their concerns over the lack of supervision for emergency incidents, but management dismissed these concerns and decided this was to be reviewed after six months.

“They stated no members would lose their job but the reduction would be through natural wastage and/or redundancy or early retirement.

“There will be a detrimental effect on the current service provided to the public of Cleveland during an emergency.

“Lives will be put at risk and control room staff will be put in situations of prioritising calls, with a lack of supervision.

“The staff of Cleveland Fire Brigade control room pride themselves on the service that they currently provide, which is paid for by the taxpayer, and do not think the same taxpayer should be paying for them to carry out a less efficient emergency service.”

Cleveland Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Ian Hayton hit back at the claims in the letter and insisted the service would not be affected by changes.

Mr Hayton said: “There will be no reduction in our emergency response service. We will continue to provide a high-level professional service, ensuring all emergency response calls take priority at all times.

“Our control room staff are well placed to handle Telecare calls as they are highly trained and experienced in dealing with calls of this type. We have fully considered the workloads of staff and consider this work to be easily manageable.

“In the last 12 months the number of emergency calls dealt with is approximately one per hour.

“Dealing with non-fire related calls has been part and parcel of the work undertaken by control room personnel for a number of years and is undertaken by other control rooms across the country.

“The surplus generated by this Telecare work will be invested into protecting our community services and supporting employment in the Brigade in the future.”

He added: “The safety of our communities remains our number one priority and is at the heart of all we do.

“I want to reassure people that we will continue to meet our rigorous emergency response standards to ensure the safety of people across Cleveland.”

No-one from Cleveland Fire Brigade Union was available to comment on the claims.