Fife fire cuts: full house for SFRS buzzword bingo card, but no clear answers

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My buzzword bingo card was filled up within minutes as the jargon flowed faster than water from a height appliance at the scene of a major fire.

It was difficult not to compare the management speak of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service senior officers with the directness of those who man the pumps and tackle the blazes. The gulf between the corridors of power and the frontline was never more evident than in Committee Room 2 on the fifth floor of Fife House in Glenrothes.

Councillors wanted simple answers. Instead they got statements littered with - deep breath - talk of operational delivery models, data driven based risk, operational resilience, a strategic service review programme, scenario planning, governance structure something about the Scottish urban renewal classification, and possibly something about the SDMP team constantly reviewing things. By then, I was in need of some breathing apparatus to recover, so I may have got the acronym wrong.

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This wasn’t the SFRS’ finest moment. Faced with a critical audience, under fire from its proposals, it retreated into the least engaging language known to man - corporate speak. The end result was a frazzled committee going round in circles in search of direct answers. A bit like watching a dog trying to catch its own tail.

Pic: John DevlinPic: John Devlin
Pic: John Devlin

In the end, its message was simple - can the cuts, show us the data, and then come back for a proper, open, cards on the table discussion with all us. By all, they meant, all 75 councillors. Pack sandwiches and a thermos flask – it could be a long session.

It was also hard not to feel for the senior officers sent in with a notebook filled with officially signed-off statements - and fair play to them for sticking with it as questions came in from the room and the big screen above the heads of the media seats. You could sense the exasperation of some councillors as they sensed that while their words were being heard, they really weren’t getting through. Bang your heads off a wall often enough and it’ll eventually hurt.

The FBU’s presentation was shorter and more direct - take away our appliances and we are in danger. Proper, real danger.

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Ryan Boyd, branch secretary at the Methil station, gave councillors the clearest example. He was incident commander at the fire which gutted the former Rick’s nightclub in Methil recently - the latest major blaze to break out in a derelict building.

“We were under extreme pressure short handed,” he said “My biggest concern was for members of public in flats adjacent to building. The ability of our second appliance to put on an extra jet was key. We were able to save the flats. Without that second pump in those initial moments, I could not have done that.”With the fire in the roof, the appliance was also a major player in tackling a blaze in a building where there were acetylene cylinders - without crew to tackle them they were “effectively bombs.” You got the picture in two sentences.

The fire service’s real challenge in seeking to cut those appliances from stations which have each either’s backs, and adding significant travel time for a new, more modern height appliance from Dunfermline is re-assuring people - home owners, business owners and firefighters - that the service will not be diminished in any way whatsoever to any part of the Kingdom.

Safe to say, it didn’t achieve that in committee room this morning. This debate is set to rumble on throughout this summer. Expect more protests, but, hopefully, fewer buzzwords.