AN EMERGENCY fire crew in north-west England was dispatched on a 100-mile journey to save a drowning man because of government cuts.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) yesterday warned that lives were being put at risk by cost-cutting centralisation after five fire emergency control rooms were centralised into one office covering the whole of the north-west to save cash.
This false economy has led to the loss of vital local knowledge that enabled control room staff to immediately identify the nearest fire station to emergency incidents and despatch crews.
This almost proved disastrous last week when fire crews were called to help a man who had fallen into Riverton reservoir outside Bolton in Lancashire.
Instead of turning out a local crew, centralised fire control headquarters for the region despatched a crew from Carlisle, 100 miles north and at least two hours away.
It was only when the crew pointed out the madness of the mission that the error was recognised and the closest available crew was sent instead.
The local crew arrived in time to save the man but was delayed by the error.
The incident has caused animosity within the coalition after north-west MP and Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron yesterday demanded the government — and specifically Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles — institute an independent review of the centralisation debacle.
North West Fire Control Centre in Warrington recently replaced local control centres and now handles 999 calls for Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria — a huge area.
Mr Farron, MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale, said the new system had rightly been called a “white elephant.”
He declared: “I hope that Eric Pickles will urgently look at this new evidence and agree to a review of the situation.”
The FBU has vociferously campaigned against the closures of the five fire control centres in north-west England and said public safety had been put at risk through merging services.
General secretary Matt Wrack said: “After being years late and massively over budget, the new control system continues to be a huge government embarrassment.
“Local knowledge has been lost as local control centres are closed and control staff made redundant.
“Quick and efficient response times are vital to firefighters being successful; mistakes like these put the public at risk. Eric Pickles must listen and order a review into the system.”