The Scottish Government’s community safety minister has highlighted a recent increase in funding for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in response to a station in her own East Edinburgh consituency being left with too few firefighters to staff engines.
Ash Denham, MSP for Edinburgh East, also said that operational decisions on the local allocation of resources are a matter for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) board and chief officer.
Her comments come after the Evening News exclusively revealed that stations across the Capital have been reduced from two to one engine in recent months, while specialist roles such as water rescue and major crash response have also suffered.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the biggest staffing shortage in a generation came to a head on Saturday when Marionville Fire Station was closed all day by insufficient numbers.
Marionville Fire Station serves the Restalrig and Craigentinny areas, part of Ms Denham’s Edinburgh East constituency.
Long-term sickness meant two firefighters were off work at Marionville meaning the remaining three colleagues had to be redeployed elsewhere, as they were unable to operate the station’s one engine. McDonald Road was also down to one of two fire engines while the station’s high ladder was also not staffed – leaving the east of the city shorter still.
The FBU’s East of Scotland secretary, John McKenzie, described the situation as “unprecedented” and said there is now an “increased risk to public safety” as a result of staffing shortages across the city.
Speaking in response to the staffing issues, Ms Denham said: “Operational decisions on the local allocation of resources are a matter for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service board and chief officer. Since the reform of the fire service, there have been no compulsory redundancies and no station closures.
“The fact is we have increased the spending capacity of SFRS, with £15.5 million this year for their transformation plans. That includes £5.5 million in extra direct funding and ensuring they keep in full £10 million from VAT costs – as well as increased capital funding of £21.7 million for 2017-18. The SFRS is the only fire service in the UK to receive this level of additional funding.
“The SFRS are currently negotiating a new pay deal for firefighters to reflect their flexible role. I encourage all involved in those talks to reach a fair deal as soon as possible.”
But Mr McKenzie said that the crisis has left duty officers “dreading” shifts with their “hands tied” and in an impossible situation.
He pointed to a national shortage with more than 500 fewer firefighters than five years ago and a target number agreed last August of 3,021 never met.
Mr McKenzie says the service is “chronically under resourced” and blamed the strategic leadership team and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service board.
Kenny Rogers, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Local Senior Officer for the Capital, stressed that the fire service continues to respond to every emergency call.
A total of 105 new whole-time firefighters will also shortly take up positions across Scotland, and a further 60 new recruits will begin their training in January next year.
Of the 105 new whole-time firefighters, 13 will be stationed in Edinburgh.
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