THE fire service’s deputy chief has warned Southend’s cluster of fire stations could be under threat as part of the cost-cutting programme.

Adam Eckley, deputy chief fire officer for Essex, hinted that the service would look at whether stations should remain open in Leigh, Rochford, Southend and Hawkwell.

Rochford and Hawkwell have already become retained, but Mr Eckley said cuts could go further as part of plans to save £2.5million every year until 2019.

He said: “It is a legacy dating back to when Southend used to be a borough fire brigade. We have got a lot of fire stations together in a fairly small area. That is something we have got to look at.

“There are occasions when every resource we have got is deployed, so we’ve got to see whether we are resilient enough to lose any machines.”

Mr Eckley’s comments have raised concerns. A firefighter from Southend, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s dangerous and unbelievable at a time when management is expanding their headquarters at Kelvedon Park that they’re looking at closing stations.”

Milton ward Labour councillor Julian Ware-Lane said: “It’s very worrying and it sounds like it’s driven by the need to save money rather than what is best for the public.

“I think everyone wants to know that if they are ever in need of picking up the phone and calling 999 the fire engine will get to them as soon as possible and they not have to worry about it getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way.”

But Leigh councillor and fire authority member Peter Wexham said: “The current plan is that no fire stations should have to close and I don’t think they will, but I haven’t got a crystal ball and if the government keeps screwing more and more money out of the service then I guess it could have to look at other ways to save.”

He suggested that one way to save money would be for Leigh fire and police stations to operate from the same building.

He added: “That’s something they could look at more and more across all services, the ambulance service could combine with other services when appropriate too.”

Ann Holland, Southchurch councillor and another fire authority member, pointed out that the authority reviewed the level of cover needed at fire stations just two years ago and didn’t suggest closing Southend stations.