ANGRY residents have started to campaign against plans to change Birchwood Fire Station from opening 24 hours to running part-time at night.

Cheshire Fire announced the proposal last week which would mean current firefighters working 12-hour day shifts and 20 new retained firefighters introduced who will be called from home when needed at night.

Birchwood homeowners told chiefs at a meeting on Tuesday they were worried about the effect the change will have as it adds at least five minutes on to response times.

One Birchwood resident said: “We’re all here today because we’re proud of our fire station and don’t want to see something that works changed.”

Fire officers told residents the changes were being made as Birchwood is one of the quietest 24-hour fire stations in the county, risk levels are low and that most incidents occur during the day.

Paul Hancock, chief fire officer, said: “These drops in incidents and accidents over the past few years are because we are all living safer lives.

“We can’t predict if and when a major incident will take place but we do need to exercise our professional judgement.”

Concerns were also raised over how this would affect the service to nearby motorways.

A resident said: “The whole area of Birchwood was gridlocked last week when all the cars came off the motorway to avoid the congestion caused by an overturned potato lorry. A part-time firefighter isn’t going to get to the station within five minutes with those sort of delays.”

A group on the social networking site Facebook has had more than 1,100 people opposing the cuts join in four days. ‘Keep Birchwood Fire Station wholetime’ has been spreading word of the campaign with group members posing in their ‘I want it 24/7’ T-shirts.

A poll on the Warrington Guardian website also found that 87 per cent of readers disagreed with the plans to cut hours at Birchwood Fire Station. More than 45 people attended the meeting on Tuesday afternoon at the station including past and present firefighters from Birchwood.

Mark Lingard, secretary of Birchwood Fire Brigade Union, said: “Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service claims that the proposals aim to give the same level of service but in a different way.

“We believe that increased response times critically compromise everyone’s safety – the public’s and the firefighters.”

Views expressed in public consultation meetings will be recorded before a decision is made by Cheshire Fire Authority on March 17 as to whether the plans will go ahead.

Labour MP Helen Jones has also backed the 24/7 campaign.

She said: “This is yet another example of Warrington north being treated badly.

“Not only does this put residents more at risk but it will mean that motorway accidents will not be dealt with as quickly.

“This is a Tory-controlled authority cutting services.

“You don’t have to have a crystal ball to see what a Tory Government would do, you only have to look at the public authorities they control now.

“The firefighters at Birchwood provide an excellent service to the community, I have seen their work for myself and I believe they are being treated shabbily.”