Fire cuts in Fife: fire chief’s pledge as appliances set to be removed

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Fife will not be left with a diminished fire service after controversial cuts are made to stations across the region, a senior officer has pledged.

It comes after a huge backlash to the proposals which will see the temporary removal of secondary appliances from Methil, Glenrothes and Dunfermline, and the loss of a height appliance engine from Kirkcaldy.

The machines are set to go on September 4 unless Fife politicians can force a change of plan at Scottish Government level. Its flat cash settlement is the root cause of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) having to find £11m in savings this year - and there is almost certainly more to come in the next few years.

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The proposals for Fife have been branded absolutely unacceptable and outrageous by councillors and MSPs, and their input is far from over as they seek more answers, with the issue set to return to the council table again later this month.

Firefighters demonstrate at Fife Council HQFirefighters demonstrate at Fife Council HQ
Firefighters demonstrate at Fife Council HQ

Across Scotland, ten stations face having appliances withdrawn. David Farries, assistant chief officer with responsibility for service delivery, said the region would not be left with a poorer service come September 5, and spoke of the significant challenges facing the organisation. He also rejected suggestions the Kingdom was being “disproportionately hit” with three of the ten cuts coming at stations here.

Mr Farries said Fife would have one pump per 25,000 people. In Edinburgh it is one for every 50,000 - and the risk from fire is lower in the Kingdom.

That data - and much more - sits at the very heart of the SFRS strategy as it looks to make huge savings across Scotland.

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He said: “We have been saying for quite some time we have to understand the changes we face within communities, and how we best locate our resources where those fire risks are.”

David Farries, assistant chief officer with responsibility for service delivery at Scottish Fire & Rescue ServiceDavid Farries, assistant chief officer with responsibility for service delivery at Scottish Fire & Rescue Service
David Farries, assistant chief officer with responsibility for service delivery at Scottish Fire & Rescue Service

That work, he said, would have happened regardless of the Scottish Government’s settlement, but the focus is much sharper given the financial challenges it faces over the coming years, and the changing issues it deals with.

“We have to match what we have with the changes that we face,” he said. “That risk has changed massively over time, The reality is incidents in Fife have reduced massively over time,

The temporary withdrawals will allow the service to deliver the savings required. The bigger picture could mean more difficult decisions down the line.

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“Even after the changes, Fife will still have a sufficient resource from the fire service, and a very good response within the region to match the risk.”

Mr Farries said Fife had fewer incidents than major cities such as Edinburgh or Dundee, and the work done by SFRS had led to a downturn in the number of figures overall, with the nature of fire crews work also changing as communities develop.

“Fife has a disproportionate percentage resources in relation to demand,” he said. “Last year, Methil had 1000 incidents. That is really quite low in a national context. Edinburgh does more than six times that number with the same two appliances. We have maintained all the appliances in the Fife fleet while the number of fires have gone down. In other parts of Scotland, there is not an adequate or appropriate provision of appliances.”Mr Farries said the appliances in Fife would have back up from Dundee and Edinburgh - just as they would be called to support crews at incidents outwith the Kingdom - and returned to the data, pointing out: “It would be improper of me to make equal amount of resource for each area because the risk is not in proportion. Incidents in Fife are down - there is not the same level of activity here that there is in other parts of the country. That’s a good news story for Fife.”

The temporary nature of the withdrawals - it could be for up to one year - will allow the service to meet its savings target, but the fire chief did not rule out more permanent changes further down the road.

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And while politicians expressed cynicism over the short-term removals, he explained: “We can make temporary changes to our operating model to allow us to continue. We can do that without public consultation based on risk assessment.

”To make permanent changes, we have to go through a full public consultation. We don’t have time to do that just now to save the money in the first year to satisfy the budget we have been allowed by the Scottish Government. We will not shy away from the fact that we need to make permanent changes to our appliances, and how we potentially operate.”One permanent change is the removal of the height appliance from Kirkcaldy station - but not as part of the budget savings. In short, the appliance is beyond its shelf life. It was a gas guzzler, expensive to maintain and prone to breaking down given it was over 20 years old - tackling fires at height has also changed. Called out 70 times over the last five years, it wasn’t involved in the rescue of a single person.

He said relocating a more modern appliance from Edinburgh to Dunfermline would give the Lang Toun and surrounding towns good cover. That new vehicle wouldn’t even fit into the Kirkcaldy station, he added. He said the road network meant the appliance would be able to respond to all fires, not just in Fife: “These are national assets. While it may be stationed in Fife it is not just for Fife.”

He also pointed to the capabilities of the existing appliances to operate at height, underlining how firefighting has changed.

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“ There are types of incidents we go to now and that we didn’t when I was a firefight - lots of things have changed. I know there was discussion that this looked like it was all about Edinburgh and the lower central belt, but the reality is it is about matching the resource to the risk that exists within the community.

The bottom line: “The financial challenge we face is not going away.”