Fighting flames of austerity
The late Tony Benn commented: ‘If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.’ And, no one needs help more than when they need to call on the Fire and Rescue Service. In April 2013, the Scottish Government merged the existing eight Fire and Rescue Services to create a single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. This merger was to remove duplication in order to mitigate some of the funding reductions that would inevitably flow from the politically motivated austerity agenda. But these savings have now been exhausted.
The continued year-on-year cuts are now slashing the frontline, despite assurances from the Scottish Government that this would not happen. Since 2013, we have seen nearly 700 frontline firefighters’ jobs lost and five out of the eight emergency fire control rooms have closed which has disproportionately impacted upon women. Staffing levels have depleted so much that there can be no guarantee that frontline appliances and control rooms are adequately maintained and crewed at all times.
When a helicopter crashed through the roof of the Clutha Vaults Bar in Glasgow on 29 November 2013, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service deployed 125 firefighters to the scene within minutes. They performed complex search and rescue techniques in very difficult circumstances; specialist firefighters shored up unstable areas and excavated other parts that had collapsed. Ten people tragically died as a result of the incident and over thirty people were injured.
These figures might be much worse were an incident like this to happen again at a time where resources are over stretched due to the continued cuts. This can compromise the ability to respond quickly, in the right numbers and with firefighters who have the appropriate skills. Independent research by Greenstreet Bernam indicates there could be up to 200 more deaths across the UK by 2020 purely as a result of increasing response times to incidents.
Previously, there were mandated response times which the Fire and Rescue Service adhered to when mobilised to an incident. These have been scrapped. Now the public have no way of knowing when help will arrive when they dial 999. One day, it might be you on the end of a phone waiting and frightened.
This situation is totally unacceptable to the Fire Brigades’ Union which is continually fighting the flames of austerity. The Scottish Government needs to provide future financial settlements for the Fire and Rescue Service that recognise the vital role firefighters play in keeping communities safe – not just by responding to emergencies but through education, fire safety checks and contingency planning – and protecting our economy. Firefighters must have the resources and tools to do the job.
The risks in our communities are always changing and the job of a firefighter changes with them. It’s vital to nationally assess these risks to ensure the Fire and Rescue Service remains suitably resourced with enough firefighters who have the skills, equipment, and infrastructure to deal with them.
Firefighters are there when you need them. Now is the time we need you. Think about the men and women who will come running when your house is on fire, when your workplace is threatened by a gas leak, when your son or daughter has a car accident and lend your support to the Fire Brigades’ Union campaign by lobbying your MSP to provide future investment and to stop the cuts to the Fire and Rescue Service. As Chomsky said ‘What is going on with austerity is really class war. Austerity under recession makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse.’
Firefighters, trades unionists and everyone in Scotland must unite against this attack. We must come together to preserve the principle that everyone, no matter where they live, is entitled to the protection and security afforded by the Fire and Rescue Service. Hear Tony’s Benn’s voice ringing in your ears, ‘Don’t just stand in the corner and disagree … make demands from the Government to stop austerity.’
Denise Christie is the Scottish Regional Treasurer for the Fire Brigades’ Union