Anger over longer response times from Penwortham fire station - and fears they will also affect Preston

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An average of almost three minutes will be added to evening and overnight response times from Penwortham fire station as part of changes to how it is staffed.

The on-call system in operation at the Leyland Road facility is set to be revamped after a Lancashire-wide shake-up of shift arrangements was given the go-ahead by councillors on the county’s combined fire authority.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) says that its own “robust” standards for how quickly engines arrive at incidents in the area will continue to be met after the overhaul.

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But a county councillor representing the town has condemned the move and claims that the new set-up - due to be introduced in 2025 - fails to take account of Penwortham’s proximity to Preston.

There are changes coming to the way Penwortham fire station operatesThere are changes coming to the way Penwortham fire station operates
There are changes coming to the way Penwortham fire station operates
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David Howarth, who holds the Penwortham West seat on Lancashire County Council - and is himself a fire authority member - was the only one of the 25-strong committee who refused to back the recommendations of the service’s emergency cover review at a meeting just before Christmas.

That review will boost the total number firefighters across the county by eight, but see slight reductions in crewing levels at 13 stations, including Penwortham, Fulwood and Leyland - and significant increases at three others - according to the shift system they operate.

The impact of the changes, which are set to be implemented across the next three years, has sparked a war of words between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and LFRS.

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Major fires like the one that destroyed the former Odeon Cinema in Preston city centre this year attract a response from multiple fire stationsMajor fires like the one that destroyed the former Odeon Cinema in Preston city centre this year attract a response from multiple fire stations
Major fires like the one that destroyed the former Odeon Cinema in Preston city centre this year attract a response from multiple fire stations

However, it was the plans for Penwortham that attracted most debate at the recent fire authority meeting.

Why might Preston be affected as well as Penwortham?

County Cllr Howarth told brigade bosses that they had treated Penwortham and Preston as if they were “on opposite sides of the Atlantic, not opposite sides of the Ribble”.

“Penwortham fire station is the closest fire station to all the high-rise blocks in the centre of Preston, including [those] that are still being built for student accommodation - and yet none of that is taken into consideration in the statistics and analysis that’s been presented.

Preston's Blackpool Road fire station is further away from the south western corner of the city it serves than the facility in Penwortham (image: Google)Preston's Blackpool Road fire station is further away from the south western corner of the city it serves than the facility in Penwortham (image: Google)
Preston's Blackpool Road fire station is further away from the south western corner of the city it serves than the facility in Penwortham (image: Google)

“It leads you to think that Penwortham fire station only serves Penwortham. It doesn’t - it's probably the first response, in many cases, to the centre of Preston,” said County Cllr Howarth.

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The single-appliance facility currently operates a shift pattern known as “day crewing plus” (DCP), meaning that it is staffed by full-time firefighters who - when on duty - are present at the station during the day and then remain on-call throughout the evening and overnight, staying in purpose-built accommodation on the site.

Under the changes, Penwortham will move to a “flexible day crewing” (FDC) arrangement, whereby firefighters on shift operate from the station within daytime hours and then go on-call from their own homes at night, a move which the brigade says will improve their work-life balance. However, they are required to live within five minutes of the station in order to minimise the impact of the system on response times.

On average, it takes 1 minute 46 seconds for an appliance to leave a DCP-staffed station after being alerted to a night-time emergency. For FDC facilities, that timeframe rises to 4 minutes 33 seconds - an average increase of 2 minutes and 47 seconds.

On-call firefighters working evenings and overnights at Penwortham fire station would have to live within five minutes of the facility under the new shift systemOn-call firefighters working evenings and overnights at Penwortham fire station would have to live within five minutes of the facility under the new shift system
On-call firefighters working evenings and overnights at Penwortham fire station would have to live within five minutes of the facility under the new shift system

The peak time for fire brigade callouts in Lancashire is between 4.30pm and 5.30pm - with the majority of all incidents attended by Penwortham’s DCP engine occurring between 8am and 8pm.

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The fire service stresses that the FDC set-up - which is already in operation at four other Lancashire fire stations, including Fulwood and Leyland - would still enable the county’s fire service to achieve the required response times for Penwortham, both from the town’s own station and those in Preston and Bamber Bridge.

The majority of the area served by the Penwortham station has been assessed - based on demographic and other data - as being of low risk, for which the county’s fire service pledges a response standard of 12 minutes. However, part of town is deemed medium risk - requiring a response within 10 minutes - while a small area on the border with Preston is rated high risk, necessitating an eight-minute response standard.

How has the fire brigade responded?

Deputy chief fire officer Steve Healey acknowledged that “station borders are dynamic”, but insisted that the individual station assessments which underpinned the proposals made within the emergency cover review had been based on wide-ranging data.

He also highlighted the already-agreed purchase of a 45-metre aerial ladder platform which will be based in Preston and will respond to any high-rise incidents. That piece of kit - which is 13 metres longer than the four hydraulic platforms currently in service in Lancashire - is the “highest aerial ladder capability outside London”, Mr. Healey told the fire authority meeting.

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The Fire Brigades Union disputes Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service's claim that the county-wide crewing changes will have an insignificant impact on response performanceThe Fire Brigades Union disputes Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service's claim that the county-wide crewing changes will have an insignificant impact on response performance
The Fire Brigades Union disputes Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service's claim that the county-wide crewing changes will have an insignificant impact on response performance

“The Preston area is covered currently by four fire engines and crewed either completely with wholetime firefighters or wholetime firefighters that do a flexible day crewing system. That will remain as part of these proposals [and] we are not looking at removing any of the four fire engines out of Preston,” the senior officer added.

The review will not result in any reduction in Lancashire’s 58 fire engines and 39 stations, but St. Annes fire station - like Penwortham - will shift to a flexible day crewing arrangement.

Firefighters at DCP facilities receive a 32 percent additional allowance - equating to an average of almost £11,000 - to compensate them for the fact that their shifts involve remaining on “close standby” during the evening and overnight, having worked throughout the day. That pensionable payment will be partially lost for those moving to the FDC system and surrendered totally for any personnel whose stations become staffed on a wholetime rota.

A meeting of South Ribble Borough Council’s scrutiny committee back in October heard that the DCP station changes would contribute to the savings that enabled an overall increase in staffing across the county.

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Fire service area manager Tony Crook said that the proposals within the emergency cover review amounted to a change in the “distribution of resources” across Lancashire.

He added that Penwortham and St. Annes had been selected to move to flexible day crewing because they were among the “lower-level activity stations” in the county.

However, South Ribble councillors queued up to outline their concerns over the plans, with Middleforth ward member Will Adams questioning the wisdom of the move in view of Penwortham’s “strategic location” and the high-rise developments in Preston and “the associated risk with them”.

Foreshadowing County Cllr Howarth’s comments, Cllr Adams claimed that the analysis of the Penwortham station’s role did not “give a true picture of what [its] fire appliance does in terms of its impact on the wider area of Penwortham and Preston”.

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The South Ribble gathering also heard from a Penwortham station crew manager, Adam Wagstaff, who said he did not feel that the data on which a public consultation into the review had been based “reflect[s] our activity levels in the slightest”.

The review analysis notes that the facility has responded to an average of 460 incidents per year between 2018/19 and 2020/21. Tony Crook told the scrutiny meeting that the data focused on “actual mobilisations… when a fire engine is basically called out and then travels to a job…and books in attendance”.

He said that the stats excluded “mobilisations that don't result in any work” such as “going out, basically just to to turn back” - but did include the “wider coverage” area for the station, beyond its own ground.

However, Mr. Wagstaff said that Penwortham station firefighters had been mobilised to around 1,000 incidents last year and were on track to hit 1,400 in 2022.

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“The secondary fires, the false alarms - they are only secondary fires and false alarms once we get to those incidents,” he explained.

“We are there very quickly [and] we stop those incidents protracting into critical fires.”

At the fire authority meeting, County Cllr Howarth also highlighted the impact of the change to the staffing arrangements at Penwortham station on its firefighters - all of whom would have to live within five minutes of the facility once it moves to a flexible day crewing operation, if they wanted to remain based there.

“There are 14 crew at Penwortham [and] only three of them actually live in [the town] - so you're expecting 11 of them potentially to relocate their families…[and put their children] into new schools - and all the knock on effects that this will have,” he said.

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The fire service has committed to enabling anybody permanently employed on a DCP contract to continue working that shift system - although that would involve them moving to one of the remaining six stations that will still operate it after all of the changes have been implemented: Bamber Bridge, Chorley, Bispham, Darwen, Nelson or Rawtenstall.

As a result of what the brigade describes as the “perceived challenges around [the] affordability and availability of housing” within a five-minute radius of the Penwortham and St. Annes fire stations, it has agreed to consult further with staff and trade unions about how it will introduce the on-call element of the new arrangements.

The options are to stick to the original plan of flexible day crewing or to implement a day crewing only system, with evenings and overnight periods being covered by other on-call firefighters.

The final decision will be agreed between combined fire authority chair County Cllr David O’Toole and chief fire officer Justin Johnston, who said that he expected to “be able to accommodate most people’s wishes…whilst delivering the best service that we can to the public”.

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Meanwhile, in the wake of feedback received during the three-month consultation, a further review specifically of the Preston area has now been recommended, against the backdrop of the potential replacement of Preston fire station.

The day crewing plus system was first introduced in Lancashire in 2010 as a way of maintaining emergency cover levels while making major financial savings as austerity started to bite into public sector budgets. It required fewer personnel to deliver the same level of round-the-clock response - with a DCP-crewed fire engine costing around £880,000 a year to run, compared to £1.34m for one operated on a wholetime basis.

Firefighters had to volunteer to opt-out of European Union-devised rules governing the maximum number of hours they could work in a week if they wanted to move to a DCP shift pattern.

The FBU does not support the system, although the Lancashire fire service says that it came to an agreement with local union officials over the issue 12 years ago - a claim which the FBU denies.

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Of the 37 staff on DCP contracts who responded to the emergency cover consultation, 62 percent disagreed with the proposal to end the arrangement at Penwortham station and 70- percent opposed the move at St. Annes.

The brigade says that DCP crewing can reduce the capacity for fire prevention work in the community because of the need to provide firefighters with “recovery time” the day after being called out to any overnight incidents, so as to reduce fatigue.

In a statement issued to the Post after the fire authority approved the emergency cover proposals, Steve Healey said: “We have reviewed the locations, numbers and types of fire stations and fire appliances against community risks and incident levels across the county - and the proposals reflect the most effective and efficient ways to provide emergency cover for the whole of Lancashire.

“We are maintaining all 39 fire stations and 58 fire appliances across the county, meeting our response standards, and creating additional firefighter jobs. We are also strengthening the service’s capabilities in relation to climate change emergencies, and high-rise and commercial building fires.

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“In Penwortham, the proposed changes to emergency cover align with risk and incident levels in the area. The fire engine remains there and we will continue to meet the required response standards when people call us out.

“Changes to crewing arrangements at some stations are necessary where the shift system is not supported by the Fire Brigades Union. However, we have worked with our staff to find an alternative that offers greater resilience and flexibility,” Mr Healey added.


The Lancashire brigade insists that the station crewing changes to be implemented as part of its emergency cover review will have just a 0.1 percent impact on its county-wide response performance.

However, that figure was disputed by the Fire Brigades Union in a letter sent to the combined fire authority the evening before a crunch meeting just before Christmas at which members approved the raft of proposals.

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The review had originally suggested adding 25 firefighters to the Lancashire rollcall, requiring an extra £215,000 of investment. But in the context of what the LFRS described as a “shifting financial position”, it revised its plans so that they now generate savings of around £400,000.

Nevertheless, the fire service says that the new arrangements “are not a cost-cutting exercise” and are designed to ensure “an effective and efficient response to fires and other emergencies at all times”.

But in the FBU letter, seen by the Post, the union warns that the shift to flexible day crewing in Penwortham and St. Annes amounts to a loss of “night-time fire cover” in those areas - and adds that it does not “recognise nor concur” with the assumption of a 0.1 percent impact as a result of the overall package of measures.

These include upgrades to three of the current 11 DCP stations - in Morecambe, Fleetwood and Skelmersdale – which will move to “wholetime” operations, with the number of firefighters based at each rising from 14 to 24. Bispham had also originally been in line for that boost, but was dropped from the final proposals.

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However, there will be reductions in the total number of firefighters from 28 to 24 at three wholetime fire stations - Lancaster, South Shore and Hyndburn - which will move to a new flexible wholetime arrangement under which staff are able to self-roster their shifts to give them maximum control over their working hours, if that change can be agreed with the unions. The staffing decrease will be implemented regardless of whether the flexi arrangement is implemented or not.

Firefighter numbers will fall from 14 to 13 at four of the six remaining day crewing plus stations - Bispham, Darwen, Nelson and Rawtenstall - but remain at 14 at Bamber Bridge and Chorley, because of their status as urban search and rescue facilities.

There will also be a drop from 14 to 13 at the four existing flexible day crewing stations - Bacup, Fulwood, Ormskirk and Leyland - as well as Penwortham and St. Annes when they move to that system in 2025/26.

LFRS says that the changes to its staffing establishments are “in line” with those adopted by many other brigades nationwide.

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But the FBU’s letter declared that there was “no definition of resilience or flexibility [that] these proposals comply with” - and also warned of the negative impact of having six firefighters per watch at some four-watch stations and the potential to have to use overtime to cover staffing shortfalls as a result of leave or sickness.

However, deputy chief fire officer Steve Healey told the fire authority that he found the last-minute correspondence “disappointing” and claimed that it contained “a number of inaccuracies” - most notably, he said, the assertion that the emergency cover review involved “job losses”.

“I’m at a loss as to where that has come from,” Mr. Healey said, contending that it was “quite an achievement” to increase the firefighter staffing establishment within the changes that the fire authority was being asked to approve.

He added that while the FBU contested the 0.1 percent impact of the proposals, they had not “[come] up with any alternative view on what they feel that the changes look like”.

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“Our data has been externally analysed by a third party company that looked at tens of thousands of incidents over years of data and the fact remains that the proposals…do not have a significant impact on emergency cover at all,” Mr. Healey said.

Fire authority chair - Conservative county councillor David O’Toole - said that people would “make their own conclusions about the [FBU’s] letter”, but described the emergency cover review as “extremely thorough” - and the best he had seen during his time on the authority.

Labour fire authority member County Cllr Nikki Hennessy said that it would have been preferable to receive the letter “a couple of weeks ago”.

She added that fellow Labour members would have been unable to vote “for any loss of fire station[s] or appliances or job losses”, but that it was up to the service itself to decide on duty systems and how to make them work.

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The authority was warned that it may be necessary to revisit some of the proposals depending on the final funding settlement for the service which was received in the days after the fire authority meeting.


In addition to the changes to shift arrangements, the combined fire authority approved proposals to:

***strengthen the fire service’s response to climate change emergencies by replacing four of its current fire appliances with new vehicles complete with off-road capabilities for use in areas at risk of wildfires and flooding - and also by introducing specialist flood water incident managers;

***broaden the capability of the 400 on-call firefighters in the county - who crew 32 of Lancashire’s 58 appliances - including via a pilot to expand the skills of on-call staff at Hyndburn and Morecambe in aerial ladder platform driving;

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***optimise emergency cover through the use of new “dynamic cover software” to inform decision-making based on “current levels of risk, demand and staffing profiles”.

The fire service in Lancashire has also previously moved to strengthen its firefighting and rescue capabilities at high-rise and commercial buildings by buying a new 45-metre aerial ladder platform and two additional water tower appliances.


Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service sets response standards for small geographical areas across the county - containing between 1,000 and 3,000 people - based on the probability of an incident occurring in those locations and the consequences if it does.

These determine the maximum time it should take from the call reporting an incident to the arrival of the first appliance at the scene:

Low risk - 12 minutes

Medium risk - 10 minutes

High risk - 8 minutes

Very high risk - 6 minutes

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Non-fire in incidents where there is a risk to life (such as road accidents and water rescues) - 13 minutes

The vast majority of Lancashire is deemed to be of low risk and overall fire risk in the county has reduced by 23 percent in the last 15 years.

Source: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service


Wholetime 2/2/4

Firefighters work a standard 42-hour week on a rota system of two 10-hour day shifts followed by two 14-hour night shifts. Staff are divided into four watches and provide 24-hour cover from the station. A “flexible” version of this system is due to be introduced at some stations, which will allow staff to self-roster their shifts on agreement with managers.

Flexible Day Crewing

Stations are staffed by wholetime firefighters who provide cover from the station itself during the day and respond from their home address - within five minutes of the station - outside of those hours.

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Day Crewing Plus

Cover is provided by wholetime firefighters from the fire station during daytime hours and from purpose-built accommodation on the station grounds during the evening and overnight.


On-call firefighters respond to emergencies in their communities from their home or workplace. They provide a pre-determined level of cover each week. Some fire stations have a combination of wholetime and on-call crewing arrangements and some wholetime firefighters also provide on-call cover outside of their normal working hours.

Source: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service