No station closures, pledges fire chief.
Depute chief officer repeats pledge not to close city sites, although sharing bases with ambulance crews likely
The chief officer himself has given the commitment that there are no station closures that are going to happen in Dundee. IAIN BUSHELL
There will be no fire station closures in Dundee despite falling firefighter numbers across the country, managers have promised.
The pledge came after Dundee was hit by three major fires in as many days – a farm at Strathmartine, Braeview Academy and Hilltown Indoor Market – with city fire crews working at full capacity and borrowing additional resources from surrounding areas.
However, it is likely fire and ambulance crews will increasingly share facilities in a bid to save money.
In an exclusive interview with the Courier, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service depute chief officer Iain Bushell reiterated promises that the city’s four stations on Macalpine Road, Blackness Road, Kingsway East and Balmossie in Broughty Ferry would remain open.
There had been fears some of Dundee’s facilities and resources could be under threat after documents sent to senior staff had suggested the current staffing model was unsustainable and any cuts would predominantly be in urban locations.
Mr Bushell said: “The chief officer himself has given the commitment that there are no station closures that are going to happen in Dundee.
“In fact, recently what we have done is bring more resources into the Dundee area and specifically into Balmossie, because we are now sharing that facility with the Scottish Ambulance Service.
“So not only are we providing a better service for that area of Dundee, but we’re also saving taxpayers’ money by combining services and sharing facilities. It’s something that we are looking to do more and more in the future.”
Falling firefighter numbers were attributed to an ageing workforce, with retirements bringing down the head count. Between 140 and 160 firefighters across Scotland retire each year. Recruitment drives are in place to attract young people, as well as women and ethnic minorities.
Those were reported to be going well, although bosses admitted that there were still “challenges”. Among these were potential applicants from diverse backgrounds being put off a career in firefighting, as it was still said to be stereotypically viewed as a “job for white men”.
There have been 4,000 applications, with 299 people hired over the past year across Scotland.
Addressing the audience at the organisation’s annual performance review in Dundee this week, Kirsty Darwent, chairwoman of the SFRS board, said: “I can absolutely assure you that although the numbers (of operational firefighters) have decreased, safety of the people of Scotland is absolute priority.
“It is all about putting resources where they are most needed, as evidenced in Dundee, where there were crews from Fife and other areas helping at the Braeview fire.”
Alasdair Hay, SFRC chief officer, added: “Despite some of the challenges, we are still fulfilling our duties.
“It’s not just about direct actions, but also indirect activities.
“Part of our work is about dealing with problems in advance rather than waiting until they arise. For example, we have taken on 105 new trainees to prevent staff shortages in future.
“I appreciate the kind words about the work that was done by firefighters at Braeview Academy. That is replicated across Scotland.”
Aspate of devastating fires in Dundee has brought the issue of emergency service cover across Tayside and Fife sharply into focus.
On successive nights, fire services in the city were stretched to their limits as, first, Braeview Academy was severely damaged and then, Hilltown Indoor Market was gutted.
As a precursor, a farm building was burned down on Monday night, with livestock killed in the inferno.
The welcome pledge by depute chief officer Iain Bushell that no stations will be closed in Dundee could not have come at a better time.
However, there was an accompanying commitment to sharing fire and rescue resources between regions.
The effort to tackle Tuesday’s school fire, which saw appliances attend Dundee from Perth, Fife and Angus, was highly commendable and showed how the system can work in certain circumstances.
However, it is fair to ask what would happen if a second, and third, major emergency had been called in another part of the country.
At present, we are dealing in hypotheticals – and there can never be enough crews to deal with every eventuality – but such a scenario must be weighing on the minds of those tasked with allocating resources.
Further cuts are coming, unfair as that may be — they cannot compromise safety.
Above: Iain Bushell, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service depute chief officer. Below: fire crews at the Strathmartine farm fire.