North Yorkshire's fire chief is playing Russian roulette with public safety

Up to 18 fire engines are unavailable to respond to emergencies each day in North Yorkshire because of chronic staff shortages, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) can reveal.

The public are being put at risk, says the FBU, because firefighters from major towns and cities are being seconded to fill gaps across the county.  This means there aren’t enough firefighters to operate fire engines at many stations, leaving these vehicles redundant in the event of an emergency.

Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in north Yorkshire, said: “The situation has never been as desperate as it is today. This is the first time during my 19 years as a firefighter that I’ve witnessed an entire crew of firefighters being removed to prop up shortfalls at other stations. Senior officers are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives. It is completely unacceptable. You simply cannot run an emergency service on a wing and a prayer.”

Last December the Combined Fire Authority (CFA), Councillors representing the areas of North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council, voted through cuts to full time firefighter jobs and the introduction of smaller vehicles crewed by just two or three firefighters instead of the minimum standard of five required to deal with all incidents safely.

The FBU warned at the time that the CFA’s plan to rely on retained (part-time) firefighters to plug the gap of reduced whole time (full-time) firefighters was unfeasible, as low levels of recruitment and retention had also depleted the part-time service.

Now fire stations in Scarborough, Harrogate, Northallerton, Acomb and Huntington have effectively been downgraded, with full time staff removed or reduced for hours at a time.

FBU officials expect the situation to worsen further as cuts voted through in December increase pressure on the service. Steve Howley added “Already senior fire service managers are having to paper over the cracks by taking the unprecedented steps of removing immediately available fully crewed fire engines at some stations in order to fill staffing gaps at other stations.   Emergency cover is becoming a postcode lottery.”

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