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Voices Of Scotland Invest in our firefighters and fire and rescue service

FBU conference this week will be setting out clear demands. DENISE CHRISTIE explains

THIS week FBU officials from all over Britain will be descending on Blackpool for our annual policy conference. 

Firefighters will be making our voices heard as we continue our campaigns to stop the rot of our fire and rescue services. 

Scotland will be represented by a mixture of experienced and new officials who have stepped up to the mark to take more of a leading role in their branches and areas as we campaign to stop the dismantling of this vital public service. 

At FBU conference, firefighters will be demanding no more cuts to Scotland’s Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS.) 

Audit Scotland highlighted a 12 per cent decrease in SFRS budgets since 2013/14 to 2018/19, stoking fears of greater job cuts and fire appliances being unavailable due to insufficient firefighters to crew them.  

Scotland has seen a loss of nearly 1,000 front-line firefighters since the merger of the SFRS, a closure of five operational fire control rooms from eight to three and seen an increase in response times with no signs of slowing down.

Year on year we are continually seeing a reduction in the front line, yet evidence shows that total non-fire incidents are on the rise from 9,158 incidents in 2013 to 13,218 incidents in 2018 — proving the very point that firefighters are being asked to do more with fewer resources and on a backdrop of real-terms pay cuts over many years. 

Although the FBU is aware of recruitment in recent months, these hirings still do not cover the retirements that have occurred or that are projected in their employee retirement profiles and the squeeze on jobs also continues unabated. 

This week at FBU conference we will be continuing to campaign for investment in the fire and rescue service and for a moratorium on cuts. 

We will be demanding the recruitment of a new generation of firefighters on Grey Book terms and conditions to replace personnel who retire and to rebuild the professional workforce. 

This recruitment process should include the development and implementation of a new equality and diversity strategy to improve diversity within the service. 

Conference resolutions from Scotland include the need for national response standards. Such standards should include a maximum response time standard of five minutes from the time of call to arrival of the first pumping appliance, a maximum response time standard for the second pumping appliance and a minimum of five riders on all pumping appliances.

There should also be research undertaken to assess the response time to optimise the key aims of reducing deaths and injuries and reducing fire-spread and damage to property. 

That is why the FBU was extremely disappointed that the justice committee’s March 2019 report on post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 did not support the FBU’s written and oral submission.

The justice committee recommended that the SFRS continue to improve its response times across Scotland, but is not convinced that setting response time targets is necessarily the correct approach. 

During the justice committee evidence session, I told the committee that the FBU wanted response time targets and response standards reintroduced and explained that these targets had previously helped to keep the infrastructure in place and maintain the number of fire stations and firefighting personnel, adding that reintroducing targets would ensure that the public are being provided with a world-class service and to ensure public safety and firefighter safety.

In the meantime, there should be a general requirement on fire and rescue services to work to regularly and continually improve emergency response times, improve the time taken to safely implement intervention at incidents with fire and rescue services required to evidence these improvements. 

Firefighters do not just fight for their own terms and conditions — part of a firefighter’s DNA is to also standing up to protect their profession. 

At a time when pay is being starved and pressures to do more are on the increase, FBU conference will be setting out clear demands — invest in our fire and rescue services and stop the erosion of firefighters’ pay. Pats on the back do not pay the bills.

Denise Christie is Scottish regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

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