Severe cuts to fire service coverage in Epping Forest have received official backing.

At a meeting of Essex Fire Authority today (June 8), councillors considered three options for the future of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service.

Each option included Loughton losing one of two fire engines.

Waltham Abbey station would also change from 9am-6pm weekday staffing to on-call, with crews responding from home or other workplaces.

Despite calls to change the options available to protect individual stations, option two was selected unaltered, described as the “least worst option” by some consultees.

Countywide, 66 fire engines will remain, with second vehicles removed from five stations.

The number of “wholetime” firefighters – permanently based at, or mobilised from stations – will drop by 138 from 570 to 432, with on-call numbers rising from 437 to 456.

The plan will now be developed before being considered for confirmation at an authority meeting in September.

The Essex Fire Brigades Union previously said the cuts could increase response times to fires and accidents, and a Loughton firefighter said morale is “the lowest it has ever been”.

Acting chief fire officer Adam Eckley claimed there has been a 45 per cent drop in incidents over 10 years, but at the meeting councillor Cathy Kent referred to statistics such as a recent 17 per cent rise in domestic fires, saying it could be “misleading” to ignore a potential spike in incidents.

Giving his support for option two, officer Eckley said: “I do believe, given… a range of uncertain challenges in our future, notably around terror threats, climate change and the ability for us to work with our partners, I do believe that option two is the one that should be supported.”

He also claimed it was the best option to avoid compulsory redundancies and added: “I think it has the greatest potential for us to build a more open, inclusive and supportive culture… between the authority, staff and various work groups.”

County and district councillor John Knapman, from Chigwell, said he supported option two but raised concern that a heavy duty engine left at Loughton could be called to incidents across London, and that on-call firefighters in Waltham Abbey could become stuck on the nearby M25 with no back up.

Addressing authority chairman councillor Anthony Hedley and officer Eckley, Cllr Knapman said: “I want to know… what is plan B if you get this wrong?”

He also raised the possibility of Loughton’s second fire engine being bought locally to keep it in service.

Under the plan, an average tax band D property would see an annual increase of £1.35 going towards the service.

Labour councillor Michael Danvers said: “It is a very dodgy road we are going down.

“It is driven by the government’s austerity programme.

“I do not think we would be doing it otherwise.”

He added: “We are going to be paying more and getting less.”

It is not yet known when the cuts will be made.