Scotland has most unfit firefighters in UK - study

Picture: Jon Savage
Picture: Jon Savage
Share this article
Have your say

ONLY one-third of firefighters in Strathclyde meet recommended fitness standards, according to a study published yesterday.

Figures obtained by the BBC under a Freedom of Information request found that Scottish firefighters, from Strathclyde, Highlands and Islands and East Scotland, topped a UK league for those who failed to meet the recommended fitness levels.

Across the UK, more than 10 per cent of firefighters – 2,890 out of 24,272 – did not meet the standard tests, which measure the rate of oxygen consumed during exercise.

Of the 52 fire services that responded, Strathclyde had a failure rate of 66.7 per cent, compared with Surrey’s 0.6 per cent, during the period between May 2012 and April 2013.

In Strathclyde, of the 652 tested, there were 435 “unfit” firefighters, of whom 111 were “seriously unfit”.

Diane Vincent, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), said a review was under way on how best to assess staff fitness .

She said: “The creation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has provided an opportunity to review current practices in all areas of occupational health and wellbeing. In relation to firefighter fitness, we have commenced a review of working practices within antecedent service areas with a view of providing equitable and consistent practice across the SFRS.”

Last night, John Duffy, the Scottish secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, called the findings into question, arguing that Scottish firefighters are fit enough to do their job.

He said: “The figures are highly questionable. We need to know exactly how the question was put and how each of the eight previous services answered. They all had different ways of testing fitness.

“It is not the case firefighters in Scotland are too unfit to man engines. That is ridiculous. As far as we are concerned, the fitness of firefighters is within safe levels.

“If you look at the chart produced, it puts Strathclyde on 66 per cent, North Yorkshire on 35 per cent and West Yorkshire below five.

“That is impossible to have such huge anomalies. It is such a huge difference, especially between two neighbouring services in England.”

One senior firefighter at management level, who did not wish to be named, added: “These figures seem highly unlikely. How can one region have over 60 per cent and another at 0.6 per cent? Different areas have different tests and different pass rates. Before amalgamation in Scotland, it was impossible to compare like-for-like.

“They also quote East Scotland, which never existed, so maybe they are putting together three former units for that area, but who knows.”

Murdo Fraser, Conservative MSP for mid-Scotland and Fife, said: “Whilst it is disappointing to see 30 per cent of Tayside firefighters miss the fitness targets, I am sure that with the correct support, that figure can be reversed.

“The Scottish Government should look to educate those currently serving in the fire service regarding fitness and maintaining good health.”

The results of the study come as the Fire Brigades Union prepares for industrial action south of the Border over changes to pension rules, which will raise retirement age to 60.

The report states that the majority of fire services measure the “maximum rate of oxygen uptake”. This assesses the maximum amount of oxygen a firefighter’s body uses while exercising, in proportion to bodyweight. It does not test a firefighter’s physical strength.