Campaigners, trade unionists and Labour Party activists gathered at the Sadler Road base in Winsford ahead of today’s fire authority meeting.
Among those present were retired Chester firefighters worried about the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) that would downgrade the second full-time fire engines at Ellesmere Port and Crewe fire stations.
In a response document, the ex-firefighters told members of the Labour-controlled fire authority there was concern due to the number of chemical plants in the Ellesmere Port area subject to Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 (COMAH).
It read: “We, very respectfully, ask you to consider the possible impact of an off-site large scale release of toxic gas or a serious fire at any one the seven COMAH sites in Ellesmere Port when deciding whether Ellesmere Port’s second fire engine should go to on-call status.”
The already precarious state of the service was exposed in December, according to the ex-firefighters, when it took more than 12 minutes for fire crews to reach the scene of a fatal house fire in Lache on Christmas Eve, according to a Freedom of Information response.
Their document concluded: “The events of Christmas Eve illustrates how thin resources already are. What would have happened on the night had even a minor incident occurred at one of Cheshire’s 23 COMAH Sites or another serious fire had occurred?
“Should these current IRMP proposals go through, Ellesmere Port will be vulnerable to some serious risks and Cheshire East will have just one 24/7 whole time fire engine.”
Fire authority chairman Cllr Rudd, who says he is advised by senior fire officers, does not accept the current situation is unsafe but agrees it’s not ideal due to Conservative government cuts.
“We are facing having to make cuts we don’t want to make,” he told The Chronicle.
Cllr Rudd said the authority was asking for an increase in the council tax of 2.99% for 2018/19 or £2.19 per year to £75.48 for a Band D equivalent property to protect the fire service. This was the maximum that could be requested without holding a referendum across four precepting authorities.
The problem with a referendum was the administrative cost could be £500,000-£750,000 and the community may vote against a larger increase.