Avon Fire Authority has cancelled almost all firefighter training courses as they prepare for the threat of strikes – leaving at least 70 firefighters missing out on required training.

Firefighters have to complete requalification courses in their breathing apparatus every two years. Covid saw the start of a backlog of firefighters with expired breathing apparatus qualifications, which the fire authority had wanted to clear by the end of November.

But now Avon Fire Authority, who run the fire brigade in North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire, have had to cancel almost planned training courses for the rest of the year and the number of firefighters with out of date training is set to rise.

Only a single course in trauma care is still being run as the training team turns all their attention to preparing for potential strikes.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union are currently being balloted on whether to go on strike next year, after they voted to reject a 5% pay rise. If approved, the industrial action would happen in February 2023.

As a result, the fire authority is looking to recruit reserve staff. Head of HR Karen Shiel said: “Our aim is to get around 80 firefighters, 30 control operators, 20 drivers, and 20 team leaders to provide the cover that is required over that period.”

Matt Crovetto, group manager for the learning and development team, said: “We have to ensure that candidates are capable and able of doing the role that they are asking to do. They will be provided a three-day initial skills course, continuous development days, a three-day breathing apparatus initial course, and a three-day initial road traffic collision course.”

But putting all other training on hold to prepare for the strikes means that it will be even longer before firefighters with out of date breathing apparatus qualifications can requalify.

Mr Crovetto said: “Currently, due to the change in scope and work pressures placed upon the training and delivery team, we have had to cancel seven breathing apparatus courses which has affected between 70 and 84 [firefighters], depending on how many would have turned up on the day which we can’t accurately count.

“This has meant that, where we had planned to get rid of the backlog by the end of November, we will be looking at  – at the end of this month […] – a projection of 41 members of staff out of date and by the 28th of February, that will extend to 68.”

He added that they were planning to put on two extra breathing apparatus training sessions to get 20 of these firefighters re-qualified by the end of February. Five more training sessions are already planned long-term.

A risk assessment is being carried out on an individual basis for each firefighter with out-of-date training.

The ballot on strike action will run until January 30.