FIREFIGHTER crews are being cut in Worcestershire - with only four members being sent out to fires instead of five.
The move has been criticised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which says its life-saving workers "could be killed" due to the measure.
Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority voted at a meeting today (Wednesday, February 15) to make the reduction at stations including Droitwich, Evesham, Malvern, Kidderminster, Redditch and Bromsgrove.
A funding pot of £800,000 has run dry and county councillors said they were reluctant to take more cash from reserves to keep the numbers up.
But they did vote to start a 'review' aimed at keeping a crew of five on the first wholetime appliance at the six sites, which will need to be complete "at the earliest possible time".
But if a deal can be struck at a later date, it will need to be at "no extra cost to the service".
Back in 2014 bosses decided that a crew of four would be a standard number, but a temporary measure was introduced to bump it up to five.
During the meeting, councillors were told that crews out on duty used five firefighters 77 per cent of the time at the six stations, and four on 23 per cent of incidents.
After questioning from councillors, senior fire service bosses insisted that four staff could safely attend blazes, citing Hereford, where it is always that number.
Worcester also has crew numbers of four.
They were also told how on some incidents like house fires, two crews get sent out to handle it - meaning at least eight staff are on duty.
Councillor Bruce Baker said: "We really must support the recommendations of the senior staff - they have had a few years of doing this job.
"If they suggest four on a crew is safe, then we must really support it."
Councillor Fran Oborski added: "We should take advice from professional officers.
"I am absolutely certain there is no way the personnel would want us to move anything that would put any firefighters at risk."
But after the meeting Steven Gould, secretary of the FBU in Worcestershire, said: "It is astounding that the fire authority is willing to condemn their firefighters to working in much more dangerous circumstances.
“A crew of four not only puts firefighters at greater risk but also the public - you need five firefighters in a crew in order to carry out safety critical jobs.
"Anything less and it means we cannot properly prepare for either firefighting or rescue operations."
He said the service's reserves stand at £6.6 million.
In November, bosses revealed how more than £2.4 million needs to be slashed from spending at the service by 2020, under worrying forecasts.
The fire authority says it has been warned to expect a 30 per cent grant reduction from central Government by then, and prepare accordingly.
Some crews now voluntarily work 24-hour shifts, with 12 hours on call, to plug staffing gaps through the night.