FIREFIGHTERS in Northwich have launched a campaign to save its on-call fire engine amid a radical overhaul of services across Cheshire.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has launched a consultation amid plans to reshape services across the county, which include replacing on-call services at Northwich, Winsford, Runcorn and Macclesfield with full-time crews, who would only operate during the day.

On-call crews have other jobs but when a call comes in, must head to their local fire stations to deploy. Full-time firefighters do not have other jobs but are stationed on site for the duration of their shift.

The current situation means that, although on-call staff are not present there all the time, they can still be called in during the night or weekends to respond to emergencies.

The new plan would leave one full time fire crew in place and replace the second, on-call crew, with another full time crew. But that new full time crew would only work during the day and not at evenings and weekends like the present on-call crew currently does. But the service insists each station would still have cover around-the-clock.

The service also claims the changes would not harm coverage across the impacted towns as fire engines could be deployed from other parts of Cheshire.

But a Facebook post by the affected Northwich firefighters, said: “Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service state that ‘improving the recruitment and retention of on-call firefighters has been a priority of the service for several years’, but this is not correct.

"Wholetime firefighters have been prioritised over on-call recruitment, meaning the numbers of on-call staff have dropped dramatically, with no help or incentive to try and increase the numbers."

They also claim they were prevented from meeting the town’s MP Mike Amesbury, and local councillor Andrew Cooper at the station by service chiefs. a claim denied by the service.

Andrew Fox-Hewitt, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Cheshire, said: "We are aware the proposals are causing concern and anxiety at stations where the removal of a fire engine is proposed, and we have requested data along with risk and task analysis from the service to understand how these proposals will impact the community particularly at night and weekends."

Alex Waller, Chief Fire Officer and chief executive at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Our proposals include converting four fire engines, currently crewed by part-time (on-call) firefighters and not often available, to fire engines crewed by full-time firefighters and guaranteed to be available during weekday daytimes, when we are usually busiest.

"This would mean more full-time firefighter jobs and more fire engines being available. These fire engines would improve response times and serve right across Cheshire, including in Northwich.

"It is important to emphasise that the proposals do not impact on the full-time fire engine at Northwich, which will still be available as it is now.

“We have invested significantly to improve availability of fire engines that are crewed by on-call firefighters; we now spend 45 per cent more than we did five years ago.

"Despite this the fire engine availability continues to decrease. Northwich’s on-call fire engine was available 10 per cent of the time during the weekday daytimes last year. When it isn’t available the full-time fire engine based at Northwich responds to emergencies.

“We recognise that a small number of part-time staff would be impacted personally. We understand their concerns. Should the proposal be approved, we would offer them a full-time job and support them as best as we can.”

Responding to what the service branded ‘inaccurate claims’ that he prevented staff from Northwich meeting elected representatives, he added: “We approved the meeting and agreed to facilitate it at the fire station.

"We have also written to affected staff and urged them to voice their concerns and respond to the consultation."