PEOPLE in Worcestershire could be put in serious danger if controversial cuts to the fire service go ahead, it has been claimed.
Although plans which could see both Worcestershire and Herefordshire left with just one full-time fire engine each were due to be decided at a meeting of the Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority today, the decision was once again deferred following a raft of concerns.
Members heard the scheme had faced serious opposition from members of the public and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) - which presented a petition against the cuts signed by 16,200 people.
Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service's Chief Fire Officer Mark Yates said he was "personally and professionally disappointed" that the cuts were being considered, but added he felt there was little choice as the organisation needed to save £4 million in total, including £2 million from frontline services.
"This is not what we want to do but it is what we have to do," he said.
"I do not suggest and never have done that this will have no impact."
Cllr Richard Udall said it was "the darkest day I have known on this authority".
"We should not be in this position," he said.
"This will reduce response times and that will put people at risk.
"Even five minutes is a long time when your house is on fire."
A report presented at the meeting gave members three options to decide between : - Changing one of two full-time fire engines each from Worcester and Hereford to on-call as well as removing an on-call appliance from Redditch, Ledbury and Tenbury. Also to defer the removal of the engines in Worcester, Hereford and Redditch for three years.
- Changing one of two full-time fire engines each from Worcester and Hereford to on-call as well as deferring removal of on-call appliances from Ledbury and Tenbury for two years.
- Changing one of two full-time fire engines each from Worcester and Hereford to on-call, removing on-call appliance from Redditch, Ledbury and Tenbury, but to defer the changes for two years.
Although the plans were originally due to be decided in February, they were deferred until today's meeting after members agreed to move £485,000 from its £1.5 million surplus into its revenue budget.
Herefordshire County Council member Cllr Jim Kenyon described Monday's meeting as "the most important meeting I've ever been to in my life".
"This is the biggest risk to people's lives in Herefordshire since the Second World War," he said.
After several members said they felt possible alternatives had still not been properly explored the authority votes to 12 to defer the decision again until September.
Speaking after the meeting, secretary of the FBU for Hereford and Worcester Steve Gould welcomed the deferral, saying he and his colleagues would continue to campaign against the cuts.
Mr Wake said members of the fire service would work closely with the authority to address their concerns so a decision could be made in September.