Fire service cuts are costing lives, union warns after West Kirby tragedy

Being phased out: West Kirby fire station
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A fire crew tackling the blaze in which an elderly West Kirby couple died early today had to wait for 10 minutes 30 seconds for back-up to arrive from Liverpool, the Fire Brigades Union says.

Merseyside Brigade FBU Secretary Mark Rowe said fire deaths in the region are now at a 10 year high and warned that government cuts are putting people’s lives at risk.

The cuts in funding for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have seen the number of fire engines to serve the area reduced from 42 to 28. The nine engines serving Wirral have been reduced to five.

West Kirby, the nearest fire station to this morning’s tragedy in Boulton Avenue, is being phased out this year because of the cuts, and was closed last night.

Warning: Mark Rowe, Merseyside branch secretary of the Fire Brigades Union
Warning: Mark Rowe, Merseyside branch secretary of the Fire Brigades Union

Five fire engines were tackling a warehouse blaze in Birkenhead when the alarm was raised for the West Kirby fire, and Mr Rowe says this left Wirral “stripped bare” of cover.

A fire engine was on standby at Upton fire station and was sent to the fire, but the next available fire engine, from Kensington, Liverpool, was 10 minutes 30 seconds behind it in arriving.

Said Mr Rowe: “Firstly our thoughts are with the family and friends at this time. Our firefighters did everything possible to save the occupants.

“Tragically this incident and others like it highlight the warnings that the FBU have been issuing since the start of the Conservative cuts agenda. It is simply vital that we have the right resources in the right locations so that crews can respond to all areas of Merseyside as quickly as possible.

A Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service vehicle at the scene of the tragedy this morning
A Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service vehicle at the scene of the tragedy this morning

“The cuts have stripped out the ability of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to have support appliances attend incidents immediately. These second appliances are required to assist the initial crew with rescues and provide adequate firefighting capability.”

He said this morning’s tragedy emphasised clearly that the locations of fire stations are vital to enable the fastest response possible.

“In a fire situation seconds make a huge difference as to what crews can do when they arrive.”

Mr Rowe said Merseyside had suffered the most sever cuts to its fire and rescue service budget of any service in the UK.

Being phased out: West Kirby fire station
Being phased out: West Kirby fire station, which was closed during this morning’s emergency

“With Fire deaths in Merseyside now at a 10yr high the FBU call on the Conservative government to urgently address the funding of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

“I believe that these cuts have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt to be reckless, dangerous and they have reduced the ability of our Fire Service in Merseyside to function adequately to protect the people of Merseyside. Cuts are clearly costing lives.

“Fire deaths within Merseyside were at a historic low of 5 deaths in 2011/12, but that figure has now trebled. Merseyside is bearing a terrible cost for the cuts to the Fire and Rescue Service.”

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