Firefighters face cuts in pay and staffing levels if proposed plans for 2015/16 go through.
The plan laid out by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service accommodates a £1.6m budget cut across the county.
Mick Cambers, Haywards Heath Fire Service brigade chair and Fire Brigade Union member, said: “It’s come from the central government that West Sussex have to make 20% cuts in all departments over three or four years, I do sympathise that there might just not be enough money.
“But the fire service can’t run like a business, it’s supposed to make you feel safe, if the worst happens you dial 999 and I think that’s value for money.”
“It’s disappointing, with the next step you will see cracks appearing, if we have less people running and the sickness levels go up we’re going to be strapped for staff.”
The budget cuts would see the removal of some second engines and one third engine at fire stations in the county.
Mr Cambers continued: “If there are only enough resources for one fire engine to arrive on time there are only five people there, which may go down to four, and sometimes five people can only do so much without backup.
“If the budget takes firefighters and engines, the availability will mean longer times for fire engines to arrive.”
To support the proposal chief fire officer Sean Ruth, said: “The number of emergency calls we receive has fallen, and the types of incident we respond to has changed. We need to adapt our service to reflect this.”
But Mr Cambers thinks the fall in fires is not as significant as the proposal suggests.
“It’s getting harder to get an instant response and I can see delays coming soon,” he explained.
“They say the stats are going down but that’s the fire stats, and we’re a rescue service as well.
“We can’t have delays, even if the number of fires is going down if there is one we need to be there.”
The proposal states that a ‘revised day crewing model’ would apply to Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath in which ‘crews would revert to a standard 42hr rather than the current 45hr working week and no longer receive additional remuneration for extra hours worked’.
A spokesman for the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said: “The service would restructure to deliver community safety initiatives more flexibly across the whole of the county.
“If these changes go ahead it could mean firefighters at these stations would no longer receive a 15 per cent allowance for the additional hours they currently work.”
Mr Cambers said this would mean firefighters would be carrying out prevention work whilst on emergency response duty, so may be required to leave whilst teaching schoolchildren prevention strategies, for example.
He continued: “We’re looking at cuts of £360 on top of the recent £400 from our pensions, there are going to be unhappy firemen who are strapped for cash.”
The proposal states that it aims to improve the service it offers across the county, and will enhance resilience and existing community safety work with additional resources from a new Crewing Optimisation Group, as well as specialists to deal with severe weather events.
It would keep all fire stations open, but change the way fire engines are crewed, introduce new shift patterns and reduce the overall number of staff, including firefighters.
The plan is to support WSFRS with the prevention work it carries out, working closely with communities, professional partners and those most at risk.
Finally it intends to enhance resilience and existing community safety work with additional resources from a new Crewing Optimisation Group, as well as specialists to deal with severe weather events.
However, as the proposal is in its early stages it is unclear where the cuts would be made.