Paid volunteers may replace full-time Powys fire crews

Paid volunteers could replace frontline full-time firefighters in Powys as part of plans to save £1.2m.

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service are meeting concerned crews in Newtown, while Llandrindod Wells and Brecon stations would also be affected.

The 21 full-time firefighters could be replaced by retained crews, and work in community safety or outside Powys instead in more "efficient" staff use.

But unions say they fear emergency response times could suffer.

Fire service managers are meeting firefighters, the Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) and local politicians in Newtown on Wednesday. The FBU will also hold talks with managers in Carmarthen on Thursday.

In Powys, plans are to take 21 full-time fire fighters in Newtown, Brecon and Llandrindod Wells off frontline duties, and replace them with retained crews.

There is one shift of seven full-time firefighters in each town, and there are retained crews as well.

Under the proposals, the 21 firefighters could be given full-time community safety roles, and support retained crews and stations in surrounding areas. The FBU said they could also be deployed to stations outside the area.

The move has caused concern, and with Powys being such a large county it is feared that response times could suffer.

David Davies, Fire Brigades Union representative in Newtown, said rural Wales was predominantly crewed by retained firefighters.

He said: "If the measure goes forward, it is going to have a great impact on our retained duty staff because they're going to get a greater workload put on them.

"It's obviously going to slow down response times. At peak traffic times it could be a very slow response."

He added that Newtown dealt with 450 emergency calls per year, comparable to a crewed fire station.

The changes in Powys would be alongside cuts in areas like overtime. The fire authority voted to make £1.2m of savings last December.

They include:

  • Cuts to staff attending conferences (£50,000)
  • Casual overtime (£50,000)
  • Changes to county command structures (£174,000)
  • Supplies and services (£200,000).
  • Reimbursement of staff called away during meals (£87,000)

Fire service spokesman Derek Masson said a review had looked at reducing costs while maintaining quality.

"As part of this review, officers scrutinised the effectiveness of the whole-time staff at Newtown, Llandrindod and Brecon fire stations, and concluded that the community of Powys could be better served by providing these staff with defined roles to deliver community safety activities and to improve support to colleagues working at retained stations within Powys," Mr Masson said.

The authority viewed this as a "more effective" use of staff skills and experience, which would "not impact" on emergency services, he added.

Mr Masson said: "Full-time firefighters will continue to be based at Newtown, Llandrindod and Brecon fire stations."

He said there would be a "reduction in overall whole-time staff which will be carried out through moves and current vacancies not being filled".

But he said the fire authority was confident standards would not fall.

Newtown councillor Russell George called the plans "shocking".

He said: "The present arrangement has full-time firefighters located at the station, but I would question how quickly part-time staff can get to the station on Llanidloes Road in peak time Newtown traffic.

"It seems that these proposals have not factored in all the information."

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