Firefighters warn budget cuts putting lives at risk

The Fire Brigades Union is concerned by 'pressure' to save money. Picture: John Devlin
The Fire Brigades Union is concerned by 'pressure' to save money. Picture: John Devlin
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THE FIRE service faces an “intensely challenging” future with 300 fewer firefighters on duty since the creation of a national service, it has been claimed.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it was “gravely concerned” that budget cuts would impact on 999 response times as well as the fire service’s ability to carry out new duties such as attending to cardiac emergencies.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), which was created under a merger of Scotland’s eight regional brigades in 2013, must save £328 million by 2028.

But in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee on the Scottish Government’s draft budget, the FBU said there were now 400 fewer full-time firefighters since 2010 and 300 fewer since the single service was created in 2013.

It said the SFRS’s reliance on overtime and the costs associated had led to appliances being taken out of service in the west of the country.

“We are gravely concerned that the cuts will continue to impact on the SFRS budget and have a detrimental effect on 999 response times and the vital lifesaving service firefighters provide,” the FBU submission said.

“A number of reports have highlighted the worrying trend of increasing incident response times and every firefighter knows every second counts to somebody trapped by fire.”

The union said it was concerned at the “unrelenting pressure” to save money, which it claimed is “impacting on the delivery of frontline services”.

It added: “Since the inception of a safe crewing model, SFRS has relied heavily on voluntary overtime to maintain the availability of appliances to respond to the everyday emergencies across the communities of Scotland. This has led to the allocated overtime budget being overspent.

“In response to this, the unilateral decision was taken by SFRS to remove up to four frontline appliances each day in part of the West Service Delivery Area in an attempt to bring this back into balance. This is an unacceptable and unnecessary risk.”

According to the SFRS, 58 per cent of the savings to date have been made on staff costs, which make up 79 per cent of the organisation’s overall budget.

Earlier this year, the SFRS said it was considering changes to its “frontline delivery model” to help address a £50mfunding gap.

A Government spokeswoman said: “Since the launch of SFRS there has not been a single incident of firefighters responding to an incident without the necessary resources and not a single fire station has been closed by SFRS management – the SFRS has worked hard to maintain frontline outcomes with no impact on the service received by the public.”

A spokesman for the SFRS said: “We always maintain the right resources to respond effectively to any incident wherever and whenever we are needed and people can rest assured we continue to provide the excellent cover they deserve and expect.

“The fact that we are a single Scottish service means we have a full nationwide resource and are not limited by the internal boundaries that used to impact regional brigades. Crews and specialist resources from across the country can now be deployed wherever they are needed and since the launch of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service this ability has been a great asset.

“We have a significant number of wholetime firefighters due to commence with the service in January 2016, which follows two previous intakes since the establishment of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and these firefighters will be strategically dispersed across Scotland where operational demand dictates. Our imminent recruitment of a small number of new trainees specifically for the North Service Delivery Area is in addition to this and will address some of the particular circumstances unique to that part of the country.”