FIRE fighters in Ilfracombe hope for a reprieve at a crunch meeting on Friday, but the cuts axe could now fall on Barnstaple colleagues instead. Everything that can be done has been done, after a three-month campaign by local fire fighters, councillors an

FIRE fighters in Ilfracombe hope for a reprieve at a crunch meeting on Friday, but the cuts axe could now fall on Barnstaple colleagues instead.Everything that can be done has been done, after a three-month campaign by local fire fighters, councillors and supporters to preserve the nine full-time day crew posts in the town.Now, resurrected proposals to remove permanent crew from North Devon's only aerial platform will go before the 25 councillors of Devon and Somerset Fire Authority as an alternative to cuts at Ilfracombe and Paignton.Amid public outcry it was rejected in October, but a bid by North Devon member Rodney Cann and six colleagues is likely to put it back on the agenda as the "lesser of two evils" in an effort to plug a £1.3 million shortfall in the service's budget.Chief Fire Officer Paul Young will present two cost-cutting packages -the first, to remove full time crewing of aerial platforms in Barnstaple, Exeter and Torquay.This means fire fighters at those stations would operate both pumping appliances and platforms, with the likelihood that at times both could not be sent out together.The alternative would see Ilfracombe become a retained station of part-time fire fighters.Paignton would lose night cover but Exmouth and Plympton have already been saved after Mr Young reported "ongoing efficiencies" had reduced the deficit by £500,000."I spoke with local fire officers who all agreed losing Ilfracombe would be disastrous and the much preferred option we had was to choose the aerial cover as lesser of two evils," said Councillor Cann."I think it's absolutely vital to save the Ilfracombe full time posts, because of the geography in the town and its many high risk properties."There is cautious optimism in Ilfracombe following a determined campaign by the FBU, Town Council, Trades Council and supporters, with more than 2,000 signing up to protest at proposals to slash their fire service.The Mayor, Councillor John Swan, said he hoped they would be spared:"There's been a terrific response from the town, with the best attended public meeting I can remember and we just hope that together we have done enough to change their minds."It's very important our fire fighters are there to continue delivering the service they have been providing."But no one is celebrating just yet and no one is looking forward to the prospect of the axe falling somewhere in North Devon:"Even at this late stage we feel there is a way to manage the budget without cutting front line services," said Trevor French, Ilfracombe fire fighter and South West FBU secretary."We are just hoping the authority will see that, because in the cold light of day you will not have as many people at fire stations and that's putting fire fighters and the public at risk."Ilfracombe Watch Manager Barry Webb added: "We would like to thank all those who signed the petition or expressed their support, plus local councillors and the Trades Council -everyone has done what they can to get us to this point."It's out of our hands now; it's down to the politicians and we just hope they know enough about this job to make that decision."Area Commander Phil Drew said the Barnstaple aerial appliance presently had two crew members permanently assigned to it, allowing it to be ready to go immediately."From a management view the preferred option remains the dual crewing of the aerial appliance," he said."If these changes come about there will be times when we could either crew the pumping appliance or the platform, rather than both at the same time - which is, in fact, how the Somerset appliances are crewed and have been for 20-30 years."There would be no redundancies and it was possible the move could be phased in over two years, he added."Certainly as far as risk is concerned it would have the lesser impact," he said.