Union 'jumped the gun' by holding possible strike talks says Northamptonshire's fire chief

Chief fire officer Darren Dovey.
Chief fire officer Darren Dovey.

The chief officer of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue has played down speculation of a strike by a brigades' union over proposals to cut even more frontline roles.

A fortnight ago the Fire Brigades Union in the county began discussing the possibility of industrial action over moves to cut another £500,000 from the service budget in this financial year.

Northamptonshire's FBU branch fears that firefighters' jobs will be made less safe by another round of cuts.

Northamptonshire's FBU branch fears that firefighters' jobs will be made less safe by another round of cuts.

One of the options put forward at an initial meeting was to reduce the number of firefighters in the county by up to 25, achieved partly by ripping up the current duty working system that has operated in the county brigade for 35 years.

But the FBU believes this will simply make the job less safe as it means most fire engines would have to attend blazes with four crew, as opposed to the union's nationally preferred five.

Chief fire officer for Northamptonshire Darren Dovey says the union has "jumped the gun" by talking of industrial action - as he believes the service can remain safe even if firefighter levels are axed.

He said: "I have worked in three different fire bridges in the country and they all crew engines with four people.

Union members have discussed industrial action over the proposed savings.

Union members have discussed industrial action over the proposed savings.

"The mistake the unions make is that we don't work by saying how many engines we will send to an incident, we work on how many people we need.

"If it is a house fire we will send two vehicles."

"Some of the biggest appliances in London rid with four.

"They are saying it's dangerous, it's not."

The fire service in Northamptonshire has had to cut around £5.4 million from its budget since 2011 - around a fifth of its overall budget.

Last year alone £815,000 was cut and the service needs to put forward proposals to the Conservative administration about how it will axe a further £500,000 in this financial year's budget.

The union says that crewing a vehicle with four firefighters means the first team at a fire could have will have to enter burning buildings without an officer charged with monitoring breathing apparatus levels.

Mr Dovey, who has a non-political role as head of the fire service in Northamptonshire, said he would prefer not to have to make any cuts at all.

But he said as 83 per cent of the service's budget is taken up by staffing, he said any savings will have to be made through reducing employees.

As the brigade's funding levels are dictated by the Conservative-run county council, he said the fire service is competing for funds with adult social care and children's services - both of which are in rising demand.

The secretary for the Northamptonshire branch of the FBU, Benjamin Muddle, said the fire service should consider reducing its retained service before looking to reduce full-time firefighters.

But Mr Dovey believes this would require closing down outlying retained stations, such as Towcester.

He feels the better solution would be to change the way its rotas are drawn up by moving to a new duty system. Currently, firefighters work a four days on, four days off system, but Mr Dovey said 15-hour night shifts often involve a lot of "stand down" time where staff are not attending incidents.

He said: "I have said personally I wouldn't want to close any station.

"I wouldn't want to lose any fire engines.

"What I want to do is change things entirely, modernise the does business in the future.

"What they are trying to do is protect a certain way of working of a duty system and a certain amount of firefighters on an engine.

"We just need to have a constructive piece of dialogue.

"We have got a few months to go and a series of meetings.

"By the end of that hopefully we will agree and if we don't we will go through."