The First Minister may be aware of an alarming situation that arose at the weekend when a fire station in Edinburgh was forced to close due to a lack of available firefighters, while two appliances at two other stations were also stood down.
A representative of the Fire Brigades Union has said that firefighters are
“embarrassed at what this service has been reduced to”,
against a background in which there are 500 fewer firefighters in Scotland since the regional brigades were centralised.
Is the First Minister concerned about the safety implications of those shortages? Will she commit to fully supporting the fire service?
We fully support the fire service and we will continue to do so. In the budget for this year, the Scottish Government increased the spending capacity of the fire service by £15.5 million. We will continue to support the funding of the fire service, and we will continue to support it in its efforts to transform the way in which it delivers services.
I think that the member is asking me about the closure of the Marionville fire station. That station was closed on Saturday 1 December. Of course, the fire service maintains a service to allow it to respond to every emergency call, and it is fully committed to addressing any crewing challenges, wherever they occur.
Fire appliances can be safely deployed only if a full crew is available. There are instances where appliances are off the run if crew levels fall short. That might be as a result of, for example, unplanned absence such as sick leave, or planned activities such as crew training in specialist activities.
The strength of a national service is that it allows the mobilisation of appliances and personnel from other stations across the area or further afield if required. It is worth looking at what Her Majesty’s fire service Inspectorate said, which was that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is
“operationally effective and more equipped to deal with major incidents ... than the previous legacy services.”
We are never complacent about the number of fire officers, and we will continue to support the fire service. The number of firefighters per head of population is higher in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, there are 11.8 firefighters per 10,000 population. In England, that figure is just 6.3. We will continue to ensure fair funding for our firefighters and to do everything that we can to support them in doing the excellent job that they do to keep us safe.