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Duncan Stewart-Ball
Job title
Regional Secretary Wales
When North Wales fire authority announced proposals for downgrading services, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) sprang into action, rallying support from the community and laying bare the reality of what these downgrades in services would mean for the safety of the public - and firefighters’ wellbeing.

The FBU fought the options put forward for public consultation, which included the possibility of five retained fire station closures, firefighter job losses, and the downgrade in night-time fire cover at Rhyl and Deeside fire stations - taking response times from 90 seconds to a potential 10 minutes.  

The plans would have also meant half of the firefighters based at Rhyl and Deeside would have been posted to rural stations across North Wales – with some of them facing up to two-hour commutes to work.  

Duncan Stewart-Ball, the FBU’s Regional Secretary for Wales, spoke to the TUC about how union members and officials worked with the local community to urge the fire authority to reconsider its proposals.   

The proposals 

Duncan said: “At the moment full-time fire stations have immediate response, so as soon as the alarm is raised there are firefighters responding in 90 seconds. But a downgrade of the stations would have meant that during the night firefighters would have been responding on an alerter from home, so that 90-second turnout could have been up to a 10-minute turnout.   

“Two of the stations they were proposing to downgrade were in two of the busiest towns in North Wales, with big industry in those towns, so it was a huge risk." 

"Not family friendly" 

Duncan continued: “The proposals included half of the staff who are based in Rhyl and Deeside being posted out to rural stations across North Wales. They would have been put on a 12-hour day shift, but many of them would have had a three to four hour round trip on top of that too – it's just not safe practice. 


“There would have also been a huge cost to those firefighters for fuel.  

"Some of them have worked at those fire stations for many years. Some ride their bikes to work, some would use the trains, but going out into rural locations is just a totally different ballgame.    

“So many firefighters said if these proposals happen, we will be looking for other jobs – we cannot do this.    

“What they were proposing was not family friendly.”   

Gathering momentum 

When the FBU became aware of the proposals the union encouraged members and officials to attend public consultations to lay bare the reality of what a downgraded station would mean - and the potential risk to the community.  

Duncan said: “Members got out there – they spoke to the public, they spoke to their councillors and arranged meetings with their MPs and explained the options.   

“The public meetings were brilliant. Our campaign gathered momentum throughout the year. We held rallies in Wrexham, Rhyl and Deeside which were all well attended." 

Public support  

Duncan continued: “We had members of the public coming forward to show their support.    

“A family came forward who had been involved in a house fire and were rescued by the full-time crew at Rhyl. If there hadn’t been an immediate response there was the very distinct possibility that lives would have been lost on that night. They came forward and said we want our story on a film.   

“The film went out and it was very powerful. It was played at one of the meetings and it really had an impact.” 

During the course of the campaign, FBU members and officials in North Wales came up with their own ideas for improvement.    

Duncan said: “These options gathered momentum, and these options were then thrown onto the table.    

“The public really got behind us. I attended one consultation in Conwy that was attended by at least 60 people. One member of the public asked the question: ‘why are we not having the option for growth? We want to see our fire service improved not downgraded’.   

“Every member of the public present was in support.   

“It was just incredible what was happening – the support from the members of the public was absolutely brilliant.”   


In December 2023, after nine months of campaigning, the FBU were told that the options for downgrading services, closing fire stations, and firefighter job losses had been scrapped.   

Duncan said: “The options were taken off the table and it was a case of go back, work together, and come up with options that are workable.   

“Without the work of the FBU members and officials one of those options to downgrade the service would have been chosen.    

“Our campaign shows what can be achieved when you people work together. We recognised early on that we had to put it in layperson’s terms and really spell out how the fire service works, what a downgraded service would mean, and what the potential consequences would be."  

Duncan's message 

“The big message is be organised. Work together. Work in mass. Have regular meetings. Communicate. And don’t be afraid of contacting your local councillors and MP.”   

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