Chronic staff shortages at North Yorkshire fire control leave public public at risk, say firefighters

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have revealed that budget cuts to North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s control room are putting lives at risk, with staffing reductions to blame. In 2016, the service reduced the number of emergency control operators from 22 to 15.

Untrained staff are fielding emergency calls from the public, says the union, taking down vital information with pen and paper. This information is then passed to the only fully trained operator on duty who will mobilise a fire engine. At peak periods emergency calls are diverted to Cornwall. On several occasions, fire crews have been sent to the wrong address or have been delayed for up to 15 minutes before being mobilised. Additionally, operators are frequently forced to work up to 90 hours a week in order to cover staff shortages. The union says the situation has reached ‘crisis point’.

Steve Howley, brigade secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “We have now reached crisis point. The FBU warned management and the fire authority of the dangers that the cuts would have on the ability of the control room to function safely and effectively. Unfortunately, no one listened to our concerns. We were accused of scaremongering. But these are the repercussions of such savage cuts.

“Long hours, stress and isolation – it is becoming common for one trained operator to be on shift alone – have led to an increase in sickness amongst staff which further compounds the workforce shortages.

“The chief fire officer and the fire authority need to be held to account for these failings and to get a grip of the situation immediately. They are putting the lives of the public at risk by placing staff under intolerable pressure. In a fire, every second counts and a delayed response can be fatal. Managers are making this more likely with their continued cuts to the service. It is completely unacceptable and must stop.”

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