Residents were warned they face a reduced fire service in the coming years as it was revealed the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service face a £4.3m black hole in their budget.
Subsequent cost-cutting proposals identified could result in the number of firefighters manning an appliance being reduced from five to four, leading to the potential loss of 83 jobs across the county.
An internal assessment warns that this will lead to a ‘reduction in level and quality of services provided to citizens, residents, businesses and partners’, leading a petition to be launched by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
The findings from a public consultation into the plan, which ended on Monday, are being assessed and members of the South Yorkshire Fire Authority are set to discuss the next move at a meeting at Barnsley Town Hall on September 16.
A South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service report said: “Although we have previously committed to riding with five firefighters on the first available fire engine as often as possible, we no longer have the money required to achieve this without unnecessarily affecting the number of fire engines available to us.
“In reaching this conclusion, we also recognise that our fire engines already ride with four firefighters on a notable number of occasions - roughly 34 per cent of the time - and many other services across the country have established four-person crews.
“It’s the only option left to reduce costs without impacting on the speed of our emergency response.
“We cannot accurately predict how quickly we will reduce the number of firefighters we employ, but expect to have completed this change and therefore realised the savings it will produce within the next three to four years.
“The alternative to making this change would be to reduce several of our existing fire engines from ‘wholetime’ - meaning they’re available 24/7 - to day staffing and on-call night times where they response times would be longer.
“This is the draft plan and all of the responses to the consultation will be analysed and considered by the South Yorkshire Fire Authority, whose members will make the final decisions.”
A further wave of cuts could come even if the reduction in officers is approved, as the move from five to four firefighters manning an appliance will only plug about a third of the £4.3m gap.
The FBU, whose petition gained more than 3,000 signatures, said the public will be put at ‘greater risk’ if the proposals are rubber-stamped next month.
“Five is the minimum number of firefighters needed to safely tackle a blaze,” a spokesman told the Chronicle. “Each of the five firefighters has a specific role and individual responsibilities - if one is removed from an engine, the rest of the crew has to take on the missing firefighter’s responsibilities.
“By cutting crewing levels to four firefighters, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service risks leaving those trapped inside a burning building with less support in a life or death situation and firefighters putting their own lives in greater danger to rescue them.
“It is unacceptable that budget shortfalls will result in firefighters and the public being put at greater risk.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Alex Johnson, added: “We’d rather not make any changes at all, but doing nothing is not an option. We think it’s better to reduce the number of firefighters on a fire engine than it is to slow down response times to some of our communities by reducing the number of fire engines which are immediately available.
“Fire engines already ride with four people on them about a third of the time.”