As Storm Desmond batters the UK, firefighters have raised concern at the chronic underfunding of fire and rescue services as they respond to flooding. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reports that every service responding to the floods have seen unprecedented cuts in funding over the past five years.
Like other fire and rescue services across the UK, the Scottish service has been hit by cuts and a significant reduction in firefighter numbers. The FBU says this will increasingly obstruct the fire and rescue service response to incidents on the scale seen over the weekend and called on the Scottish government to protect the front line and end the cuts.
Between 2011 and 2015 the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 449 firefighters (6%). This has already led to fire engines being unavailable in various parts of Scotland, as the press has reported last week.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “David Cameron has tweeted his support for the thousands of people affected by the storm. Yet our fire and rescue service is being cut to pieces and the Prime Minister turns a blind eye to the results. Fine words are not enough, we call on Westminster and on the Scottish government to protect our fire and rescue service.
“Firefighters are responding to this emergency as they have been every time such storms and floods have hit the UK. Over the past few years firefighters have saved thousands of people from the dangers of flooding. They are also central to efforts to protect livestock, industry and other private property. These are all essential for trying to limit the damage to local communities and local economies as well as keeping people safe.
“The Scottish Government told us that shifting to the single fire and rescue service would protect front line services but since then we have seen further cuts and job losses. This is undermining our ability to respond to challenges on this scale. Firefighters are proud to serve our communities. They want to be out there saving lives and making life safer for people but cuts on this scale inevitably undermine what we are trying to do.”
Chris McGlone, FBU executive council member for Scotland, said: “The FBU has warned about the scale of cuts and job losses that have hit the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the inevitable impact on front line outcomes. The Scottish Government need to immediately protect firefighter numbers in Scotland. Further cuts will simply undermine our ability to deal with everyday emergencies as well as the large scale challenges we see when storms and floods hit.”