Firefighters 'unable to respond to emergency calls' amid budget cuts 

The union said that the average annual salary for retained firefighters has forced many to get second jobs to make ends meet.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service staff forced to take second jobs amid budget cuts and employment crisis iStock

Firefighters have been “unable” to respond to emergency calls every day amid budget cuts, a union has said.

The Fire Brigades union has said that years of budget cuts and a recruitment crisis results in as many as 150 retained crewed fire appliances being “off the run” and unable to respond to emergency calls.

Retained firefighters are required to make themselves available for 80 to 120 hours a week and be able to attend their nearest fire station within five to eight minutes of a call.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service cover 80% of the country’s landmass with 3000 retained firefighters working out of over three quarters of Scotland’s fire stations serving urban and rural communities every day.

The union said that the average £6,000-8,000 annual salary for retained firefighters has forced many to get second jobs to make ends meet.

Low pay and the pressures of having to take time off their principal job is thought to be a major contributory factor in the service having a 29% vacancy rate with 11% leaving the service in 2022/23 alone.

John McKenzie, Scottish secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said: “Scotland’s retained fire service is in crisis. Retained firefighters play a vital role in keeping our communities safe.

“They serve the central belt and huge swathes of rural Scotland and the islands but a decade of budget cuts has resulted in an exodus of staff, almost a third of vacancies left unfilled and 55,000 instances of fire appliances off the run over the last year alone.

“This situation is completely untenable.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service consultation on the future of the service must address the crisis in the retained service.”

Stuart Stevens, deputy chief officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Our on call firefighters are exceptional individuals who step up to protect their communities when needed most and we are pleased that they were awarded with a significant pay rise last month.

“We have been clear that there are challenges we must address to support our on call firefighters and to ensure that we can attract and retain staff in remote and rural areas.

“While these challenges are not unique to Scotland, our geography means that we rely heavily on our on call firefighters and this model needs to be sustainable.

“We continue to actively implement several improvements identified by a comprehensive review of our on call model.

“For example, we have introduced more than 50 full-time on call support officers across Scotland who review crewing daily and give on call cover during evenings and weekends.”

Mr Stevens added: “The nature of the on-call system, which offers firefighters contractual flexibility, means that stations can see fluctuations in their availability levels as staff combine their firefighting role with primary employment and personal commitments.

“As a national service we will always maintain fire cover and ensure we continue to attend at every emergency.”

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