CONTROVERSIAL changes to the way firefighters respond to automatic fire alarms in West Yorkshire are to be reviewed - amid fears that lives are at risk.
The Examiner - which broke the original story - can now reveal that fire chiefs are to look at the decision to reduce the number of engines responding to alarms during the day to just one.
The Fire Brigades' Union says the review is an urgent and immediate one, but fire chiefs insist it is part of an ongoing system.
But it has emerged that firefighters have had to save at least three people when they were sent to automatic fire alarms - only to find the buildings on fire.
Two of the dramas happened at high-rise flats in Bradford.
The FBU met West Yorkshire deputy fire chief Kevin Arbuthnot and senior divisional officer Simon Pilling.
On April 1 the West Yorkshire service changed its policy and now sends just one fire engine to automatic alarms between 8am and 7pm.
The only exceptions are very high-risk buildings, such as hospitals and chemical works.
Normally, a couple of engines and possibly a turntable ladder would have gone.
The reasons behind the change are shrouded in mystery.
The county's fire authority says the changes were made after it received a letter on the proposals from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's office. But a spokesman for Mr Prescott
said: "The decision to change the original plan is the fire authority's. We have no powers to over-rule their decision."
But what is clear is there was no public consultation on the proposal, which had changed radically from plans put forward for public consultation last autumn.
The Examiner investigated the story after it emerged lone fire engines were sent to Highfields Special School in Edgerton and Huddersfield New College after alarms went off.
Normally three fire engines would have been sent.
Fire chiefs say £600,000 is being wasted countywide in working hours, fuel and wear and tear on fire appliances by going to automatic fire alarms which have gone off accidentally or are faulty.
They say if someone rang to say the building was on fire the response would be upgraded.
West Yorkshire FBU secretary Sean Cahill said: "We are pleased the policy is going to be reviewed urgently, but our request for the old attendance levels to be reinstated until the review is over was rejected.
"We are less than a month into this new policy and already there have been several examples in West Yorkshire where a lone crew has had to rescue people from burning buildings.
"It's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or even killed."
He said firefighters were also at greater risk. "Their priority is to save lives and they have carried out rescues before they've had chance to fight the fires."
A spokesman for the West Yorkshire service said: "There will be a review of the new response system, but not as a result of the FBU request.
"It is something we are constantly reviewing. Officers have already identified some issues we would like to look at."