The impact of a major fire which caused extensive damage to six homes in South Lanarkshire was exacerbated by cuts to fire and rescue services, a union has claimed.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) received reports of a “well-developed” fire in the Whitelee area of East Kilbride at around 4pm on Friday.
At the height of the blaze four fire appliances were rushed to the scene alongside a high-reach appliance.
The incident sparked a police investigation which concluded that the fire was “not suspicious”.
On Monday, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the impact of the blaze could have been “significantly reduced” if budget cuts to the local service had not been implemented.
Colin Brown, the FBU executive member for Scotland, said the cuts resulted in a delay in fire appliances reaching the scene.
At the time of the incident, East Kilbride’s second appliance was unavailable as it was being used to transport staff to training near Edinburgh.
Previously, a stand-by appliance would have been provided as cover by a local two-appliance station such as Hamilton or Castlemilk but both stations have had their second fire engine removed in the latest round of budget cuts.
With no stand-by pump available from East Kilbride there was a delay in fire appliances arriving at the scene, giving the fire more time to take hold and spread to neighbouring properties, the union said.
Mr Brown said: “This fire at East Kilbride shows the appalling impact of the budget cuts being imposed on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
“The lack of second appliance cover at East Kilbride and the delay in getting crew from further afield to the scene of the fire meant that vital minutes were lost and the fire was able to spread quickly to neighbouring properties.
“Thankfully, no one was injured in this incident but delays such as this are going to get more common and the risk to life will increase if the year-on-year cuts to services that see fire appliances withdrawn and firefighter numbers cut, continue.
“The Scottish Government has to provide the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with a budget that allows us to do our jobs properly and keep communities and business safe.”
It comes after reports last week that members of the union across Scotland would be consulted on strike action in response to the cuts.
The FBU said it is taking its “first step” towards nationwide strike action as chiefs branded cuts by the Scottish Government a “threat to the lives, homes and livelihoods of everyone in Scotland”.
Service bosses said a projected five-year flat cash budget until 2027 has removed ten wholetime fire engines, while 150 retained fire engines are regularly unavailable due to significant recruitment and retention issues.
The SFRS has announced that its own projections mean it will need to save a minimum of a further £14m next year, which would result in the loss of a further 339 firefighters and 18 fire engines, with more to come.
This Thursday, the FBU will hold a demonstration outside Holyrood.
Deputy assistant chief officer Stephen Wright said: “We will always attend every emergency and will always mobilise the nearest available appliance to an incident using our standard mobilisation practices.
“On Friday, October 20, at 4.01pm, we were alerted to reports of a well-developed fire affecting several properties in Whitelee, East Kilbride and Operations Control immediately mobilised two appliances to the scene.
“Two further appliances and a high reach appliance were also requested by the on-scene Incident Commander to support the tactical plan and bring the incident to a resolution.
“There were no reported casualties involved and our crews worked tirelessly to bring this incident to a safe conclusion. We left the scene just before 12am on Saturday, October 21 following a routine check to ensure the fire was fully extinguished.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Firefighters play a vital role in protecting our communities and the SFRS has continued to deliver the high standard of services required to keep Scotland safe. That is why, despite difficult financial circumstances due to UK Government austerity, we are providing SFRS with more than £368m this year, an increase of £14.4m on 2022-23.
“Whilst the allocation of resources, along with the recruitment and retention of firefighters, is an operational matter for SFRS, we are maintaining front-line services, with a higher number of firefighters in Scotland than other parts of the UK.
“We have been assured by SFRS that appliances were deployed as required to ensure Friday’s incident was dealt with effectively.”
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country