SCOTLAND’S firefighters will decide next week whether to take industrial action over controversial cuts to the services that a union leader said would make it harder to deal with major incidents such as last year’s devastating blaze at the Glasgow School of Art.
Stephen Thomson, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Scottish secretary, told The Scotsman that the union feared the cutbacks would be the “thin end of the wedge” that would affect how the service responds to tragedies like the Clutha vaults helicopter crash in November 2013.
An emergency Scotland-wide FBU summit in Glasgow early next week will discuss how to respond to what Mr Thomson claimed is the removal of four fire engines from the Strathclyde area as part of cost saving measures introduced by the single service created by the Scottish Government.
Mr Thomson said the options to be considered by firefighter representatives would include industrial action, which could involve strikes, work to rule or overtime bans.
Scotland’s firefighters last took part in a strike in 2002-03 during a UK-wide dispute with the then Labour government over pay. However, Mr Thomson said the Scottish FBU feared the cuts in Strathclyde would be the start of a scaling back of the 59 fire engines the union says cover the area and would lead to reductions across Scotland as a whole.
The union said one fire engine had already been withdrawn from active service in the Grampian area out of a fleet of six by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
Mr Thomson said the cuts could be “just the tip of the iceberg” and that fire engines could be “grounded” in the same way in other parts of Scotland.
He said: “We’ll discuss our response which will be anything up to and including industrial action. The fear is that this is the thin end of the wedge and if we don’t make noises now there will be more and more cuts.”
Mr Thomson said the union was particularly concerned that the withdrawal of fire engines in Strathclyde would make it harder to deal with blazes in high rise blocks.
He said: “There are lots of high rise incidents in Glasgow where it would be a big thing if we have reduced capacity in this way.”
He warned fewer fire engines would have badly affected the service’s response to major disasters in the city such as when a police helicopter crashed through the roof of the Clutha bar in 2013, claiming the lives of ten people.
Mr Thomson said cuts would affect response times to such incidents and may also have led to more severe damage at the blaze in May last year at the Glasgow School of Art where the library was lost after a fire ripped through the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building. He said: “These cuts could make the difference from the damage we had to it being a total loss. It would have made a real difference to responding to a fire like that at the Glasgow School of Art fire, as well as tragedies like the Clutha crash.”