Firefighter staff crisis ‘putting lives at risk’

September 26, 2011

Grampian FRS, Local News

Press and Journal 26th September 2011

Firefighter staff crisis ‘putting lives at risk’

The Press and Journal 26 September 2011

By Donna MacAllister

 The Fire Brigades Union claimed last night that lives are being put at risk across Grampian because of a staffing crisis.

The organisation said engines were being left standing idle because recruitment problems had left many of the region’s stations out of action.

Grampian Fire and Rescue Service’s head of operations Andy Coueslant admitted that 10 stations were undermanned.

But he said the brigade was not to blame and urged people considering applying to become part-time firefighters to come forward.

Fire Brigades Union Scotlan’s Grampian brigade secretary, John Brown, said homeowners would be alarmed to know it could take up to 25 minutes for an engine to reach an emergency because cover across the region was thinning to crisis point. He added: “People in Grampian are being put at risk and the firefighters themselves are being put at risk. It’s not unusual for 10, 12 or even 14 pumps to be off the run, which means the fire engine is not available to leave the station. It’s not because those in the job are not getting a decent job done, it’s because they’re spread too thinly. The service needs to find a solution but there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.”

Grampian Fire and Rescue Service insisted last night that steps wer being taken to recruit more staff but the problem was one of demographics.

Mr Coueslant said: “This is not about cuts or reform to the fire service. We have the engines, the clothing and the training ready to go but we need members of the community to recognise that they can make a commitment to the service. We have a staff budget for a full establishment of staff. We should have 480 and we currently have 409.”

Mr Coueslant said the service was engaging with community councils, holding recruitment events, running poster campaigns and speaking with employers. There are some communities where a lot of people have to leave to get employment and that obviously limits our recruitment pool,” he said.

“If people do not come forward, I’m not sure what else we can do.”

Fire stations at Aberdeen’s North Anderson Drive, Altens and Kings Crescent, and at Peterhead and Elgin are manned by full-time staff but a further 33 outlying stations are manned by retained staff.

These officers have full-time day jobs and are paid £12.72 per hour when called out, and a yearly retainer of £2,786.

In Fraserburgh, crews breached the brigade’s own response time standards by failing to reach emergencies in less than five minutes. New figures have revealed that they were unable to meet their response times on more than 10% of call-outs.

And call-out sheets for the depot at Rothes in Moray revealed staffing problems meant that for about half the year between July 2010 and July 2011 its tender was unable to leave its garage.

Last night, one Grampian fire officer, who asked not to be named, claimed someone would have to die before the service admitted that Fraserburgh should be maned by a full-time crew.

But Mr Coueslant said that would not be feasible, and claimed records showed targets were nearly always being met.

He said Fraserburgh’s statistics suggested the community safety work was a success because call-outs dropped from 26 in 2009-10 to 15 in 2010-11.

Paul Taylor, a retained firefighter at the fully-manned Forres depot and the Assistant National Officer for the Retained Firefighters Union, said stations were trying to recruit staff. He added: “The main problem is between 9am and 5pm. We have tried to encourage people to join but there is only so much we can do.”

 

Hot spots: where and when firefighters are needed

INCIDENTS

  • Between April 1, 2010 and March 31 this year Grampian firefighters attended approximately 7,500 incidents
  • Frontline fire engines from Aberdeenshire Command stations attended 2,147 incidents, of which 132 or 9% were house fires and 105 or 8% were road traffic collisions. There were 470 false alarms, representing 30% of call-outs.
  • Frontline fire engines from Moray Command stations attended 63 house fires and 55 road traffic collisions – representing just 12% of the total 1,075 indidents. There were 434 false alarm defects, representing 40% of all call-outs.

HOT SPOTS

  • Grampian Fire and Rescue Service is struggling to fill 71 retained firefighter posts. The National Fire Brigades Union says residents of Peterhead, Huntly, Aberchirder, Inverbervie, Oldmeldrum, Lossiemouth, Rothes, Aberlour, Cuulen and Portsoy are at risk because their stations are undermanned.

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