THREE former firefighters and a Chester businessman have raised grave concerns about cuts to the city's fire service.
Richard Wilding, Andy Price, Tony Jones and Steve Jones say they “dread the consequences” of the decision to remove one of the city's two fire engines from the St Anne Street station.
The vehicle was transferred to the new station on Powey Lane in Mollington in January this year with the aim of providing quicker access to incidents on the nearby motorways.
But the trio claim the move has left both Chester's historic architecture and, more importantly, its residents and visitors, in serious danger.
Mr Wilding, a former station commander at Chester Fire Station and now President of Chester Retired Firefighters, said: “We are fearful of the situation in Chester. Our wonderful and irreplaceable heritage in the city centre is now at serious risk. However, it is the risk to people which concerns us most.
“Our shopping centres can have tens of thousands of visitors each day in the run up to Christmas. One of our nightclubs alone can have in excess of 1,000 young people enjoying themselves every weekend. I could go on and on. With just one fire engine and four firefighters at St Anne Street Fire Station we dread the consequences.”
He claimed that those who live, work and go to school south of the river are now having to wait an extra 10 minutes for the arrival of a back-up fire engine.
And those living in the Garden Quarter, which includes many students in HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) have to wait an extra eight minutes.
“This situation is the same for most of our high-rise flats,” added Mr Wilding. “Comparable cities like Bath, Worcester and Durham all have three fire engines located adjacent to their city centres.”
Mr Price, a former firefighter in Chester, shared his concerns about the situation with businessman Steve Jones, who had to be rescued from a burning building by firefighters in January, 2002.
Mr Jones said: “My business partner and I were woken at around 12.30am to find ourselves trapped in a smoke-filled building on the third floor of our hair salon on Upper Bridge Street Rows with fire raging all around us.
“We were terrified with no apparent way of exiting the building and were both panicking and extremely frightened, and thinking desperately of how on earth we were going to get out alive. We were coughing and choking because the smoke was so bad. I could hear a lot of commotion outside and managed to get to the window.
“As I looked out of the window I could see the fire crews and fire engines and frantically waved at them to get us out which thankfully they did in very quick time. We were treated for smoke inhalation and I felt so lucky to still be alive. Two fire engines were on the scene in about four minutes.”
He added: “This quick and effective response could not have happened if the appliances had to come from another fire station some distance away. The rapid response of the crews and number of appliances immediately available and attending undoubtedly saved our lives. I constantly think back to how different things might have been.”
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has hit back at the criticism.
Chiefs claim that in more than eight out of 10 cases only one fire engine is needed to tackle incidents in the city.
And on those occasions when an extra appliance is needed it has taken just four and a half minutes to arrive at the scene.
A spokesman said: “In February 2013 following a public consultation, members of the Cheshire Fire Authority approved the project to construct a new fire station at Powey Lane, Mollington, as part of a significant package of measures to improve the efficiency and operational response of the service across Cheshire.
“The station at Powey Lane has been operational since January 11, 2017. From then, until June 30, 83 per cent of the incidents in the Chester area required only one fire engine to attend. When an additional fire engine was required it arrived 4.5 minutes after the first fire engine, on average.
“The fire engine at Powey Lane has resulted in improved response times to life risk incidents including RTC’s (Road Traffic Collisions) on the surrounding road network. It also provides support to Chester and Ellesmere Port as well as other locations across Cheshire, as required. During this time the Service’s average response time to a life-risk incident within Chester has been six minutes and 40 seconds, well within our response target of ten minutes.
“The service has been working hard with local partners to minimise the fire risk presented by Chester’s heritage buildings and has developed comprehensive plans to reduce risk and respond effectively to any incidents. During the above period the average response time for all incidents within the Chester City Walls was five minutes.”
See full story in the Chester Leader