A team of firefighters face the sack after they refused to continue with a life-saving service.

The rope rescue team based at Peterlee Fire Station, in County Durham, has stopped responding to incidents requiring rescues from places such as high-rise buildings, cliffs, cranes and quarries. Comprising about 40 firefighters, the highly-trained unit was formed eight years ago to carry out the dangerous rescues using specialist equipment.

At the time, officers were asked to join on a voluntary basis and only those from Peterlee Fire Station came forward.

Now they say that due to the pressures of the extra training required and the loss of team members, they are no longer prepared to continue with the work.

Watch commander Bob Houghton said: "Rope rescue is a unit of highly trained men.

"We have to do at least 12 hours of training a month and we have to squash our other training into three days a week.

"Because of the workload, one or two of the lads have said they don't want to do it any longer, and other people have said they are not prepared to do it.

"These lads have done the job for eight years and they think they've done their bit."

But George Herbert, chief fire officer for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Brigade described their arguments as weak.

He said: "It seems a huge coincidence that the fire service happens to be in an industrial dispute when everyone involved in rope rescue decides that they are no longer prepared to undertake what they consider to be a voluntary service.

"I don't think it's a reasonable or responsible action."

Mr Herbert said the fire authority was seeking legal advice before taking action, but that firefighters could face disciplinary action or the sack.

Mr Houghton said officers were "absolutely disgusted" by the response. He said: "We have been told to expect letters in the post outlining the disciplinary action they are going to take."