UP TO six minutes could be added to fire service response times by a proposal to downgrade Huntingdon fire station – the only 24-hour station in the district – that is likely to be approved tomorrow (Thursday).

The downgrading would take place if the Government's financial cuts are more severe than first feared.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has been consulting for the last 15 months on the best way to save £4.2million from its budget. However, a review of central Government's spending formula could mean the service has to cut an additional £1.8m.

Fire chiefs fear the worst and in papers published last week, ahead of a fire authority meeting tomorrow, they suggest that Cambridgeshire Fire Authority should "agree that the service should proceed with downgrading Huntingdon fire station to day crewed status".

It adds the caveat that final implementation should not take place unless all other lower level impact cuts have been applied and the financial situation still requires the cuts to be made.

Huntingdon had previously been considered for a day crew plus scheme - where full time firefighters lived at the rear of the station to provide night cover. But the latest proposals would instead replace the full-time night crew with retained firefighters.

The service concedes that response times would be worse: Current response times from Huntingdon at night are 10minutes 33seconds, but with a retained crew it would be expected to increase by between three and six minutes, with an average increase of one minute 44 seconds.

It would affect more than 200 night emergencies each year.

Redundancies have already been made by the service, which Deputy Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland described as one of the "cheapest" in the country.

He said: "The message that we have put out is that we are a very lean service. We have 21 retained stations and only four wholetime stations and three day-crewed. For a service that covers approximately 950 square miles that is not a lot of resource.

"We are already at the bone, if [the Government] cut us any more it's not at back office level, it's at the front line."

Savings expected to be rubber-stamped by the fire authority include cutting £2.6m from the support budget, equal to 30 to 40 "back office" jobs.

Other suggested cuts include:

●The loss of Huntingdon's rescue vehicle

●Removal of the operational support unit and hazardous materials unit

●Removal of the two turntable ladders

●Negotiation of a revised shift system

Mr Strickland said: "These are not decisions that we welcome having to propose, however, we do need to be realistic. A £6m budget cut would be a reduction of about 20 per cent of our overall budget. Clearly we can't absorb this without some impact on our frontline services.

"The key thing to stress is that if the fire authority agrees, the decisions will only be implemented if the service cannot make the £4.2m savings already identified or if the results of the Government spending formula mean we have to make additional savings."

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said: "I understand the concerns about the effect of potential cuts to the fire service's budget on services and I have been working with, and will continue to work with, neighbouring MPs, the fire service and fire authority to find solutions which minimise the effect of any such cuts on frontline services."

The fire authority will meet again in May where further proposals will be discussed, including the removal of the second fire engines at St Ives and Ramsey.

●What do you think to the proposals? E-mail your opinions to editor@huntspost.co.uk. See next week's The Hunts Post for coverage of the Cambridgeshire Fire Authority meeting.