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Scotland's fire services at breaking point

Underinvestment and cuts have imperilled Scottish firefighters’ ability to adequately respond to all manner of emergencies, writes JOHN McKENZIE

LAST week the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) launched a consultation on the future of the fire and rescue service in Scotland.

This consultation follows the publication last year of the FBU’s groundbreaking Firestorm report which exposed the growing crisis in this vital emergency service. 

Because, make no mistake about it, after over a decade of sustained underinvestment the SFRS is in crisis. Over 1,200 firefighter jobs have been cut since 2013 and a growing recruitment crisis within the retained service undermines the first line of emergency fire and rescue cover provided for over 80 per cent of Scotland’s landmass.

Over a decade of budget cuts has had a major impact on the ability of the service to respond effectively to serious and life-threatening incidents and there is an £800 million capital backlog, leaving much of the fire and rescue service estate unfit for purpose.

Firefighters working in outdated fire stations face issues including Raac concrete, a lack of dignified welfare facilities and buildings unfit to provide the necessary facilities required to keep firefighters safe from the health risks caused by fire contaminants.

Significant investment is required to increase and modernise the training firefighters receive, from the use of breathing apparatus through to specialist skills such as water or rope rescue, and update the equipment they rely on to provide the life-saving emergency response that the public have every right to expect.

Last year we saw the removal of fire appliances, high-reach vehicles and the dedicated crewing arrangements for the River Clyde rescue boat.  

Cuts to firefighter numbers leave communities more exposed to fires, floods and major incidents. The SFRS Shaping Our Future Service consultation cannot be a smokescreen for further cuts to firefighter numbers or see further increases in response times that put communities at risk.

If Scotland is to have a world-leading fire and rescue service that is fully staffed with well-trained professionals, equipped to meet the challenges of our times, there must be a radical change to the pattern of the last decade of withdrawing services, cutting firefighter numbers and reducing budgets.

This will require sustained investment to deliver a range of initiatives implemented at a local and national level. 

The FBU has clear red lines which we will be submitting to the consultation:

• No reduction to overall emergency fire cover

• No cuts to firefighter numbers 

• Maintain and defend the safe crewing model to protect firefighters and the public they serve

• A fully funded and negotiated process to deliver firefighter role expansion 

• Significant investment in the retained duty system to protect the communities of Scotland

• Invest in modern fire stations with dignified welfare and Decon facilities. 

The consultation runs until June 30. You can have your say at https://tinyurl.com/FireHaveYourSay.

John McKenzie is Scottish secretary of the FBU.

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