‘Harrogate firefighters being used as guinea pigs’, says union
Last updated Oct 2, 2022
Fire commissioner Zoe Metcalfe is trialling changes at Harrogate fire station.

A union official has said Harrogate firefighters are being used as guinea pigs in a shake-up of fire services in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe confirmed her three-year blueprint for countywide fire services last week following a three-month consultation.

The changes include reducing Harrogate fire station to one appliance between 10pm and 9am, which would increase the town’s nighttime dependency on on-call firefighters in Knaresborough. However, the station will have enhanced cover during the day, when most fires occur.

The same changes will be implemented in Scarborough in three years time if the Harrogate pilot scheme proves successful.

Steve Howley, secretary of North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union said the changes lacked support by firefighters and councillors and would endanger lives.

Speaking on BBC Radio York, Mr Howley said:

“The Fire Brigades Union represent about 96% of firefighters in North Yorkshire and I can tell you now that none of our members are in support of these proposals

“We all think they are dangerous. We all think they will put firefighter and public safety at risk. Lives will be put at risk.

“They are using Harrogate as guinea pigs to trial these cuts because they are not confident that these are safe and these will deliver what they say they will deliver. It will lead to a real detrimental impact on public safety.”

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Mr Howley said the data behind the decision was “fundamentally flawed” because it was based on there being 100% availability of on-call firefighters. He added:

“For the last 15 to 20 years there hasn’t been 100% on-call availability. That number has dwindled and got worse in recent times.”

He said the union did not oppose better fire prevention initiatives but was “vehemently opposed to the removal of frontline public services to reinvest in some of these areas when it should be centrally funded by government”.

Ms Metcalfe said last week the changes were about a better way of operating rather than cuts, and savings will be reinvested in fire prevention work and boosting on-call fire stations. Boroughbridge, Knaresborough, Masham, and Summerbridge have on-call stations in the Harrogate district and there is a volunteer-run station at Lofthouse.

Her changes, which will be phased in, will see Harrogate have two fully operational appliances during the day but only one at night.

The station currently has one fully operational appliance and a smaller tactical response vehicle staffed, which are both staffed 24 hours.

Announcing her decision, Ms Metcalfe — a Conservative who was elected commissioner last year — said:

“Some areas of the service will change, and I know change can be unsettling, but I remain confident that the right people, with be in the right place, with the right equipment at the right time, to support everyone in North Yorkshire and York.”

“I have made these decisions to support the transformation of our fire and rescue service based on extensive evidence and from listening to what is important to you, which you said was increasing and enhancing prevention and protection work to stop incidents from happening in the first place”

Jonathan Dyson, chief fire officer for North Yorkshire, said Ms Metcalfe’s proposals provided the correct strategic approach to resourcing fire risk.

He said:

“Our strong focus on prevention and protection activities are the primary way for us to reduce risk in our communities.”