TORQUAY has been given three months to save one of its full-time fire crews from the axe.
The Herald Express has launched a campaign urging the public to get involved in the debate and help stop the potential fire cuts.Sign our online petition at the foot of this story
The Devon and Somerset Fire Authority wants people to have their say about the future capacity of the service in Torquay.
The proposal on the table is to replace the town's second full-time crew with a part-time or retained one.
Firefighters at the station claim this will mean the town effectively loses or mothballs one of its three 999 engines.
Fire chiefs say they have no choice and need to make £5.5million savings after a huge cut in government funding.
The third engine will still be available at the station if needed, although it is not clear who will man it.
A senior firefighter at the station is backing the Herald Express campaign to send a message to the service and to government that cuts in Torquay are a step too far.
He said: "Our main concern is losing a fire appliance and one crew from the Torquay station as this will result in delays in getting full attendance to incidents in Torquay and across the Bay."
He has been backed by Torbay councillor and Lib Dem leader Steve Darling who says he is 'horrified' by the proposals.
Mayor Gordon Oliver has now agreed to hear the firefighters' concerns at a specially arranged meeting with councillors.
The public consultation on Proposal 10, which is one of 11 contained in a draft corporate plan, will start on Monday and will run until April 22.
Torquay currently has nine full-time firefighters. The cuts will reduce this to five, backed up by the on-call crew.
It is feared areas including Stokeinteignhead, Maidencombe, Wellswood, Lincombes, Rockend, Livermead and those on the periphery of the town will not get a second pump within 13 minutes if this proposal is agreed.
The results of the public consultation will be crucial in determining which way the authority votes at its meeting later in the year.
A strong message of opposition from the people of Torquay could also send a message to government about properly funding the service.
The government grant has been reduced by 10.3 per cent in 2013 and a further 7.3 per cent in 2014, which means it will lose £3.4million in the next financial year and a further £2.1million the following year.
Cllr Mark Healey, chairman of the fire authority, said he will lobby government to ensure a better grant settlement next time, but in the meantime will be keen to listen to staff and the public.
The fire authority, which includes representatives from councils across the two counties, met in Exeter last week to present the proposals.
As well as Torquay, there are plans to change the full-time crewing arrangements in Plymouth and Ilfracombe.
Chief fire officer Lee Howell acknowledged it was a 'difficult paper to present' but thought the on-call crew in Torquay would be able to cope and 'absorb' the calls currently fielded by the full-time crew.
A full-time crew costs the service £1million a year to run while a retained engine costs £100,000, he said.
He said afterwards: "These are difficult times and difficult decisions need to be made. The proposals which have been agreed for public consultation today do not require closure of fire stations, removal of fire engines or compulsory redundancies.
"We aim to maintain or improve public safety by changing the way we do business and by crewing some fire engines differently, but like many other public and private organisations, we do have to operate with less money."
Torbay has two councillors who sit on the authority.
Cllr Derek Mills told the meeting the time for discussion on the issue was at the end of the public consultation.
Cllr Stephen Brookbank, who has already met firefighters to talk about their concerns, said: "They aren't going to make any redundancies and nothing is closing but the most important thing is public safety and I will wait to see what happens with the public consultation."
Torbay Mayor Oliver said: "We are concerned to hear of these cuts and what that will mean for the safety of residents across the Bay and for the fire fighters tasked with providing that safety.
"We will be arranging a suitable meeting for our colleagues in the fire service to come and present to all councillors."
The consultation period will start on 28 January 2013 and end on 22 April 2013.