PART-TIME firefighters may have to cut their hours because of a planned change to European employment legislation.

The retained firefighters, who are all volunteers, can be called on duty at a moment’s notice to attend emergencies.

But the European Parliament has voted to remove the exception to the working time directive, which had previously given some employees the option to work more than 48 hours a week.

If the change goes ahead the plans will see retained firefighters, most of which have full-time jobs, unable to be on-call as they will be working too many hours.

Ian Lighton, 38, of Gunners Road, Shoebury is a retained firefighter at Shoebury fire station. He said: “If it comes in, and it is as basic as this, then those retained firefighters who are in full-time work will have around four to five hours left they can use to be on call.

“I don’t think it will come in like this. I am hoping there will be some kind of opt out for services like ours because otherwise the service will not be able to operate properly.

“Many areas rely heavily on retained firefighters.”

Billericay Tory MP John Baron is backing an early day motion campaign in the UK parliament against changing the directive. He criticised the decision and claimed it could cost lives as there will be less fire cover in rural areas and full-time firefighters will have to travel from further away to get to incidents, which could cost vital minutes.

He said: “Retained firefighters are essential to ensuring we have proper fire cover.

“Their work should be celebrated, not put at risk by EU bureaucracy and the working time directive.

“The firefighters themselves are clear this proposal would fundamentally undermine our fire cover and the protection for the public.

“The loss of the retained firefighters would also force up council tax, as more full-time firefighters will be needed.”

There are 438 retained firefighters in Essex with 20 vacancies.