THE decision to close two Wirral fire stations and cut firefighter numbers has been slammed by union bosses who believe Merseyside residents will “pay the ultimate price” for the reduction in coverage.

At its budget meeting on Thursday, Merseyside fire authority approved plans that will see stations in West Kirby and Upton merged in to a new unit at Greasby.

The measures - which will also merge stations in St Helens and Knowsley – are needed to meet Government cuts and balance a budget shortfall of £6.3m by 2016.

The reduction of six stations down to three will be coupled with the loss of up to 100 Merseyside firefighters and around 50 back-office staff.
Another station in Liverpool or Sefton could also close.

An increase of 1.99% in the fire service’s share of the council tax bill was also approved but Mark Rowe, secretary of Merseyside Fire Brigades Union – which represents rank-and-file officers, told the Globe “the axe has fallen in the wrong place”.

He said: “It is devastating for the fire and rescue service on Merseyside.

“These cuts alone would severely impact on the ability of the fire service to operate in Merseyside but on top of the cuts over the years, we believe that the red line is now behind us. We have passed the line now to not be able to deliver the service effectively.”

Merseyside fire service currently has 760 firefighters, down from 1,500 a decade earlier, and 28 fire engines, cut from 42 since last September.

“We will have firefighters in the 600s by the end of 2016,” said Mr Rowe.

“That will have an impact on the service we can provide and while politicians are nervous about saying that, it is a fact.”

Mr Rowe described the cuts in funding as “wilful vandalism of the” fire service and said the FBU does not believe there is a need for such cuts.

He said: “We think it’s an ideological attack on the fire service.

“This coalition in Westminster has turned their backs on the people of Merseyside – it is quite simply devastating.

“It’s putting the fire fighters at risk as well as the public as we have to deal with more fire calls and are put in these dangerous situations a lot more.

“The people of Merseyside may face paying the ultimate price - it is a very dark day indeed for the people of Merseyside.”

Mr Rowe said members of the public were happy to pay for fully functional emergency services, adding: “The axe has fallen in the wrong place.”

The fire service intends to shed the jobs by not replacing retiring employees but has not ruled out compulsory redundancies for back office staff.

Councillor Dave Hanratty, chair of the Fire and Rescue Authority said: “We have made huge reductions in management costs and support services but Government has left us with no option but to cut our frontline services even further.

“With support from our local MPs, we have lobbied hard to stop further grant cuts but Government has only partially listened”.

Dan Stephens, Chief Fire Officer, said: “Significant reductions in fire appliances and firefighters mean that we eventually have to reduce the number of community fire stations.

“We will continue our dialogue and consultation with local political leaders and the public, particularly in the areas where stations will be merged, but we have few options left open to us.”