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As if they haven’t enough work to do fighting fires and rescuing road accident victims, firefighters in Merseyside are having to campaign to save the very service which enables them to save lives.
In common with fire services across England, Merseyside has faced an onslaught of funding cuts leading to fire station closures and reduced cover.
The villain of the piece is of course the Conservative government which is reducing funding to fire authorities.
As a result Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s latest plan is to axe night-time cover at two key fire stations, one in Liverpool city centre and the other at Wallasey.
Instead of providing 24-hour cover, firefighters are being instructed to staff a day-time 12-hour shift, but to be on call when the stations are shut for the night.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is campaigning against the plan, and has taken its campaign to the public, MPs, councillors and fire authority members.
Les Skarratts is the FBU’s national executive committee member for North West England.
He told the Morning Star: “The Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority has decided to close the Liverpool City Centre Fire Station and the Wallasey Fire Station at night.
“The loss of this fire cover at night along with previous loss of fire cover will be extremely hazardous for Merseyside communities and firefighters.
“Our aim is to stop the proposed cuts and reverse previous cuts.
“Our action has involved political lobbying of Constituency Labour Parties and MPs along with fire authority members.
“We’ve also had public meetings and town centre leaflet drops, and are engaging with the media.”
Awareness of the campaign and its importance has spread throughout the labour and trade union movement in the North West.
“It’s been across the board in relation to trade unions, including North West region of the Trades Union Congress,” said Skarratts. “It is having a significant impact in relation to public engagement and getting the message out.”
And for the future?
“We’re still in campaign mode,” he stated.
The Merseyside FBU campaign was launched in June at Jack Jones House, regional headquarters of union Unite, and named after transport union leader Jack Jones.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority said it was being “forced” to make the cuts, but admitted that emergency responses were being “compromised” as a result.
Cuts, such as reduced shift time, have hit fire stations at Crosby, Eccleston, Aintree and Kensington, and now Liverpool city centre and Wallasey are being added to the list.
In a recent report the fire authority said: “We consider this to be a better option than closing fire stations, but there is no doubt that the scale we have been required to make is now beginning to compromise the way we respond to emergency incidents.”
Merseyside FBU says that current spending plans mean that between 2010 and 2020 firefighter numbers will reduce by 37 per cent from 927 to 580, and the number of fire appliances will be almost halved — down from 42 to 22. Fire deaths in the area are increasing — five in 2010-11, and 16 in 2015-16.
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