Campaigners oppose Blaina fire station closure plan
- 15 November 2013
- From the section Wales
Campaigners are opposing the proposed closure of a fire station in a community where two firefighters lost their lives 17 years ago.
South Wales Fire and Rescue wants to close Blaina fire station in Blaenau Gwent and remove an engine from Cwmbran, Torfaen, as part of a review.
But there have been warnings that the Blaina closure would put lives at risk.
The chief fire officer said town would still be "well supported" by other stations.
A five-year-old boy was killed in a blaze at Blaina in 1996 in which two firefighters also lost their lives while tackling the fire.
Friday is the last chance for people to have their say on the plans.
The final decision will be made by South Wales Fire Authority, possibly next month. It is the second phase of a consultation about the shake-up of the service in south Wales, as it looks to save £10m.
The first stage examined the downgrading of stations in Cardiff, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.
Thousands of people have already responded to the plans for fire cover in Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport and Monmouthshire.
The fire station in Blaina has particular poignancy for local people who remember the deaths of part-time firefighters Kevin Lane, 32, and Stephen Griffin, 42, in a house fire in the village in February 1996.
They tried to rescue a three-year-old boy who was believed to be trapped inside. Five-year-old Daniel Harford also died in the blaze.
Firefighters at the station were given the freedom of the borough as a tribute.
In the fire review, Blaina is described as having the "least busy appliance" responding to about 230 incidents annually.
The service says closing the 1960s station would save £250,000 a year and the extra workload "can easily be absorbed by the surrounding stations".
The station is also in need of a complete rebuild and so closure would save "significant cost".
But Blaenau Gwent councillor Lisa Winnett said local people felt this would be "disrespectful" to the memories of Mr Griffin and Mr Lane.
The fire station still hosts memorials to the men and Ms Winnett said there were fears the station would ultimately be demolished.
"There could be massive ramifications for people's lives if Blaina does close," she said.
She added that the closure would mean an increase in attendance times to the area, meaning "lives will be at risk".
Robert Emanuel was helped by the Blaina crew following a crash in 1996 while driving home.
He said: "They definitely saved my life.
"I think Blaina was there first... they secured a very nasty situation on what is a very busy A467 main road."
He said the quick response time meant the crew were able to take charge of the initial crash scene and prevent fatalities.
Other changes are planned at Cwmbran, which has two fire engines - one "whole-time" engine crewed 24 hours a day and one with an on-call retained crew.
The fire service said removing the second engine would still leave a whole-time crew which could "easily absorb" additional work.
Chief fire officer Huw Jakeway said he had been "heartened" by the level of consultation responses.
He added: "I think the emotion around remembering the tragic events in Blaina fire station where we lost two operational firefighters and a young child to a house fire... the community still feel the empathy and sympathy so I'm not surprised when we see this number of consultation responses coming back."
He said computer modelling and examination of other factors showed the closure of Blaina "does not increase risk at all".
He acknowledged an increase in attendance time to the centre of Blaina but said the area was "well supported" by other stations.
Mr Jakeway said he "certainly didn't come into this job... to look to close fire and rescue stations" but said the service needed to save £10m in the next three years.
He added that the economic climate was "stark".
Mark Watt, Fire Brigades Union South Wales Brigade Secretary, said the closure of Blaina would "slow response times and increase the risk of death, injury and loss of property among the community".
He added: "This is a highly contentious issue as the closure would leave the poorest areas in Europe without a fire station."
The fire service said people could email their views to firstname.lastname@example.org