Mid and West Wales fire service to use vans as rural response pumps
Plans to replace some fire engines with specially-adapted smaller vans in mid and south west Wales could put lives at risk, warns a union.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) claims the vans, known as rural response pumps, have limited capability.
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is buying 17 vans, 14 will be stations' second appliances and some will replace traditional fire engines.
But the chief officer says the vans will improve the service's capability.
"We noticed a couple of years ago that we were have difficulty accessing the more rural parts of the brigade area," said chief fire officer Richard Smith.
"We have looked at a way of managing our capability off-road, through adverse weather incidents, and we came up with the concept of this rural rescue pump.
"We will use this in addition to our normal larger traditional fire engines to enable us to increase our capacity to access all incidents across our area," he said.
The FBU has served a "safety critical notice" on the fire service and called for an urgent review of its proposals, saying the pumps were being introduced at 12 stations, including Port Talbot, Morriston and Milford Haven.
Union leaders claimed firefighters in a van who were the first to arrive at an emergency would have to wait for a normal fire engine to arrive before they could enter a burning building, even if people were inside.
This could take between 15 and 30 minutes, putting the lives of firefighters and the public at risk, the FBU said.
The union has also accused managers of multiple breaches of health and safety legislation and the Welsh government's standards on responses to dwelling fires.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: "While decisions around the allocation of resources are a matter for fire and rescue authorities, Welsh government guidance does require them to plan their services on the basis of reducing risk.
"We introduced in April 2012 a new fire and rescue national framework. This highlights the need to ensure that service levels meet local needs and strive for improvements."
Chief fire officer Mr Smith said risk assessments had been carried out before deciding where to deploy the new rescue pumps.
The FBU's regional secretary for Wales, Chris Howells, said: "When firefighters see people trapped in a burning building they will be under huge pressure to enter and attempt rescues at enormously increased risk.
"That is why they have to arrive with enough personnel and equipment to take immediate offensive action, not to stand around outside."
Mr Howells said: "There will be intolerable pressure on incident commanders leaving them vulnerable if anything goes wrong."
Mr Howells said the areas of Port Talbot, Morriston and Milford Haven all had major industrial and domestic risks.
The rural response pumps are adapted from Mercedes Sprinter vans.
But chief fire officer Richard Smith denies that the change is to save money but is about modernising the Mid and West Fire and Rescue Service, having greater flexibility and about getting to remote locations.