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Firefighters fear shift changes will cost lives

PUBLISHED: 17:15 21 July 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 16 August 2010

Planned cuts across the fire service will cost lives and leave stations in the borough under-manned, warn union members

Planned cuts across the fire service will "cost lives" and leave stations in the borough under-manned, warn union members.

Bromley Fire Brigades Union representative, Mark Freeman, revealed the fears amid pivotal negotiations affecting more than 5500 fire fighters across the capital and the future of service provision.

London Fire Brigade commissioner, Ron Dobson, threatened to sack the entire workforce if key negotiations over working practices and changes to shifts patterns failed.

The plans, which were leaked to the FBU, include the introduction of 12-hour shifts during the day (currently 9am to 6pm), a reduction in night time cover and measures to transfer cover between stations.

Agreement must be reached between bosses and the union before a July 31 deadline, or fire fighters face having their contracts terminated, according to the union.

With more than 30 years service in the borough, Mr Freeman said the shake-up will have serious implications for outlying stations at Bromley, Beckenham, Orpington, Biggin Hill and Downham.

Mr Freeman said: "We are concerned that people will die as a result of the cuts. The plan is to close some central stations at night in areas where they believe their figures on population warrant it.

"Cuts to overnight cover are a big mistake, if you reduce the number of appliances you increase the risk not only to fire fighters but also to members of the public.

"If there is a serious fire in central London it has a knock-on effect: south London crews have to give cover and then crews at Beckenham and so on have to cover south London areas, leaving them under manned in the borough."

On June 20 a flat fire in Marylebone needed 20 pumps, a quarter of the London contingent, with over 120 people evacuated and two hospitalised.

"Transferring fire fighters leads to increased journey times to incidents and will create gaps in cover, putting more people at risk," Mr Freeman said.

"Every minute extra can cost lives - there is a direct co-relation between attendance times and deaths."

A key sticking point is the introduction of a 12-hour day shift, three hours longer than the existing 9am-6pm shift.

Mr Freeman added. "Nine hours was do-able, but to extend it to 12 will make life very difficult, even for people who live near their stations."

Lead FBU negotiator at Tuesday's crunch meeting, Ian Leahair, told the Times that the new proposals "will cost the lives of fire fighters".

"Introducing 12-hour shifts with shorter rest periods will lead to greater fatigue," Mr Leahair said. "If we can't come to an agreement before the July 31 deadline and the brigade chief sticks to his promise of terminating contracts to issue new ones, there will be no option but to take strike action."

A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade said: "Plans to change firefighter start and finish times are still very much at the discussion stage."

She said fire fighter contracts will not be terminated on the July 31 deadline, but if agreement is not reached with the union, the Brigade will begin "formal consultation" on proposals to change the working hours of firefighters.

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