A fire station in Scotland was so short-staffed in December that it was forced to close. Marionville fire station in Restalrig, near Edinburgh, had to close for a day because just two firefighters were off sick.
The remaining three on duty weren’t even enough to crew one fire engine.
It meant Restalrig and nearby Craigentinny were left without emergency cover.
It’s an indictment on where nearly a decade of cuts has left the fire service. Short staffing in fire stations has become a major problem.
Figures compiled by the FBU union showed that other fire stations in Edinburgh were often left with just enough firefighters to crew one of their two engines.
But FBU East of Scotland secretary John McKenzie said the situation at Marionville fire station was “unprecedented”.
“How can emergency fire provision be provided when fire engines are left unstaffed and stations left closed?” he asked.
Nearly 12,000 frontline firefighter jobs have been cut across Britain since 2010.
But the government—and the local authorities that implement the cuts—keep on slashing. In Tyne and Wear, the fire authority is consulting on plans to reduce the number of fire engines at some stations.
And it wants to downgrade other stations to “on call”—meaning they’re only open some of the time.
Another authority in Hertfordshire is consulting on plans that could mean the loss of 50 posts.
Proposed plans would mean the number of firefighters crewing an engine would be reduced from five to four.
Hertfordshire FBU chair Derek McLeod told Socialist Worker that this would “affect the safety of our members and ultimately the safety of the public”.
All this comes on top of austerity measures that have beleaguered the fire service for at least ten years.
“We’ve lost three fire stations since 2006 and we’ve had firefighter posts lost,” said Derek. “By loss of funding, staff shortages and a recruitment freeze we’re riding with very low crew sizes.”
That legacy of cuts has left fire services stretched across the country.
FBU South East regional secretary Joseph Weir said, “Since 2010 West Sussex Fire and Rescue has already saved £8 million and reduced the number of firefighters by 37 percent.
“But you are getting to this perfect storm now where there is nothing else they can lose.
“The cuts can be the difference between life and death.”
Across Britain, already-stretched fire brigades could be facing another round of cuts.
When this results in situations such as that in Restalrig, the blame lies at the feet of the Tory austerity the authorities that implement it.