A UNION chief has hit out over changes to the way fire engines will be staffed and fears it could put firefighters at greater risk.

Under new cost-saving plans, engines will be manned by four firefighters rather than five and the Warrington station will lose an appliance to a new station being built in Penketh.

Dave Williams, Cheshire Brigade Union secretary, believes it will lead to slower response times.

He added: “We know they are trying to make savings of £8m but we’re strongly opposed to the changes and believe cuts off the frontline will lead to slower response times to emergencies and the scale of cuts isn’t correct.

“They’re spreading the fire cover from stations and moving them further away from where the population is.

“Our biggest concern for firefighter safety is reducing the number of firefighters on those appliances and we’re the only one of all our neighbouring brigades going to that extent.

“We don’t believe that’s safe for our members and 80 per cent has backed a petition telling management about our concerns.”

Mr Williams said the change will cause delays to ‘critical tasks’ which have to be carried out when firefighters are at the scene of a blaze or car crash.

Changes in the town also include Stockton Heath fire station using on-call firefighters 24 hours a day which has led to concerns about delays and increased response times.

Mr Williams added he believed there was no evidence of any ‘great benefit’ over a proposed education centre attached to Lymm fire station which would cost £4m to build and £0.5m to run each year.

Firefighters were out on strike a number of times last year in the run up to and over Christmas in a row over pensions but talks are currently being held.

A Cheshire Fire spokesman said: “In approving the budget and its plans for the next financial year, the Fire Authority was very clear that their key priority is protecting the safety of both local communities and firefighters.

“Any changes to the way in which we crew fire engines in the future are being fully assessed to ensure that the health and safety of our firefighters is maintained and we have invested in new equipment and changed ways of working as a result.”

He added the plans, which include building up to five new fire stations, would improve overall average response times and the new safety centre in Lymm will be a ‘key’ way to improve the overall safety of youngsters and adults.