Fire and Rescue Officers (Access to Decontamination Facilities)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 December 2023.

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Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that all fire and rescue officers in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have access to decontamination facilities. (S6O-02838)

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

The safety and wellbeing of firefighters is a priority for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The service continues to make progress through its dedicated contaminants group. It has reviewed processes and procedures to ensure that the risk of contamination is minimised. That includes a review of all fire stations to ensure that they have site-specific control measures to minimise contamination.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

It is clearly not a priority for the Scottish Government, because a bombshell report found that firefighters are almost twice as likely as the general public to die of cancer. Those who serve longer in the fire service increase their risk of cancer, and they suffer from mental health issues at a higher rate than others. That is all due to exposure to contaminants and toxins, and to re-exposure when they use contaminated kit and equipment. Just as when, during Covid, the Scottish National Party Government told people to cut the bottom off doors, it is asking firefighters to use wipes on their equipment. That is a danger to our brave firefighters.

I ask the minister why her Government has failed for years to give the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service the budget that it needs to invest in proper decontamination equipment that will save firefighters’ lives.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

The

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is working closely with the Fire Brigades Union and the University of Central Lancashire and is taking action across all aspects of operations to reduce exposure to contaminants, including through investment in new fire appliances and facilities. I will continue to work closely with both the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the FBU on that important matter, and I will carefully consider any proposals that would increase the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all Scottish Fire and Rescue Service officers is very welcome. That said, the United Kingdom Government’s autumn statement failed to take the necessary action to increase investment in vital services such as the SFRS. As only limited levers are available to Scotland to increase our spending power, will the minister outline the impact of the disappointing autumn statement on the response to the real challenges that those services face?

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

The autumn statement delivered the worst-case scenario for Scotland’s finances. The funding that it provides falls far short of what we need and makes the challenges for our budget next year even more severe. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has failed to provide the funding that is needed, with little consideration of the specific challenges that we face. That has let Scotland down on every count. Scotland needed more money for infrastructure, public services and fair pay deals. Instead, he delivered a real-terms reduction in the total block grant. The chancellor chose to make indiscriminate cuts to national insurance while depriving public services of vital funding. That shows a UK Government that has the wrong priorities at the wrong time.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

According to the recent report “Firestorm: A Report into the Future of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service”, more than 90 per cent of firefighters said that they were concerned about the impact of contaminants on their health. Firefighters said that they had inadequate changes of uniform, laundry facilities and showering facilities to decontaminate and, as Sandesh Gulhane said, that they have to rely on baby wipes to try to clean themselves after being exposed to a fire for hours. Does the Scottish Government think that that is acceptable?

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is considering the Fire Brigades Union’s “Firestorm” report and, where appropriate, will work with the FBU and other staff representative bodies to address the issues that have been raised. The cabinet secretary and I met the FBU the week before last, I think, and the Scottish Government will work closely with the SFRS to identify budgetary requirements for 2024-25.