POLICE community support officers from Herefordshire are going to be trained as retained firefighters for a new joint pilot scheme.

Starting early this year, eight PCSOs from Herefordshire and Shropshire will begin their training to become on-call fire officers for their respective fire services.

They will be released from their policing duties for five weeks to complete their training and it is hoped if the scheme is a success, it will be rolled out further.

But Cllr Bob Matthews, who represents the Credenhill ward on Herefordshire Council, said the scheme should not go ahead as PCSOs should be left to get on with their job.

He said: "For the last few years, the police have been repeatedly telling us that they are grossly underfunded and so short-staffed that they find it difficult to fulfil their duties.

"In fact, they recently informed parish council clerks that PCSOs would no longer be available to attend their meetings due to lack of manpower, and that their attendances at most incidents would be extremely limited in future.

"It is therefore unbelievable that they are now suddenly able to provide PCSO officers firstly to attend a five-week training course and then releasing them from their regular employment at short notice whenever required, sometimes for long periods."

PCSOs are uniformed police staff whose role is to support the work of police officers within the community.

Mark Yates, chief fire officer, said in his report that the initiative was agreed between the fire service and West Mercia Police.

His report from the full authority's December meeting said there were 14 initial applicants leading to eight successful PCSO candidates and it is hoped they will be responding to be part of their fire crews by April.

He said the candidates have been subject to the same level of entry requirements but by working with West Mercia Police, they have managed to speed up the process.

The PCSOs will undergo a five-week training course, rather than several modules undertaken over a nine month period, because West Mercia Police are releasing the PCSOs from their regular employment for the five weeks.

Candidates on the pilot scheme are volunteers from Hereford City, Leominster and parts of Shropshire.

The PCSOs will be released for retained duties and training, as and when required, when they are on duty for West Mercia Police.

Mr Yates added: "It is believed that whilst other fire and rescue services are exploring this area of work, we are the first service in the UK to introduce a scheme of this kind."