Contingency Planning Arrangements for Industrial Action in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
15. The SFRS has shown high levels of resilience in recent years evidenced through its involvement in the COP26 events and the challenges presented by the COVID Pandemic. The Service positively demonstrated flexibility to maintain reduced but appropriate levels of emergency response services in demanding circumstances. These events have been analysed and are documented in previous HMFSI Inspection reports.
16. The SFRS seeks to maintain high levels of emergency fire appliance availability across Scotland on a twenty-four-hour basis. The percentage of wholetime fire appliance availability across the SFRS at any point in time is termed as 'the confidence level'. The long-held confidence level for SFRS has been 96%, however with high personnel turnover levels associated with a recent change to firefighter pension arrangements1 and the impact of COVID, this has been difficult to achieve and could now be considered by management as aspirational. During the Covid Pandemic confidence levels of 80% were not unheard of within the SFRS, during which times a full capability response, that adhered to the Incident Command System continued to be achieved. That is to say, the SFRS could mobilise to several concurrent large incidents and bring them to successful conclusions with an appropriate number of fire appliances and specialist capabilities such as water rescue, line rescue, hazardous materials incident response etc. Handling of these incidents is achieved by the deployment of appropriate numbers of trained and competent firefighters, supported by trained senior officers who fulfil a range of command and control duties as well as specialist functional roles. These senior officers are termed as Flexi Duty Officers (FDO). A fully crewed Operations Control (OC) function maintains critical command, control and communications functions in support of mobilised FDOs and firefighters during all operational incidents.
17. The SFRS has a total of 357 fire stations that are available for emergency response resource deployments across Scotland twenty-four hours per day, 365 days of the year. Seventy-four of these stations are crewed by wholetime firefighters who work within and are available to respond from these locations on a twenty-four-hour basis. Firefighters from these wholetime stations make up much of the initial emergency operational responses across the higher density urban areas of Scotland. The other 283 stations are crewed by On-Call firefighters. On-Call firefighter is a term that encompasses those conditioned to the Retained Duty System (RDS) and those operating as Volunteers. On-Call firefighters will normally respond from stations in more rural areas of Scotland. They generally live and work within their communities and commit to responding to emergency incidents when required.
18. At the time in which this inspection was being carried out, the SFRS was planning for IA by its operational and OC firefighters. Having considered available intelligence from a number of sources, the Service was able to develop an understanding of likely station availability during IA. Based on this evidence the Service held an expectation that a fairly high percentage of On-Call stations would remain available.
19. Despite this, the level of response capability to emergency situations across Scotland during IA would still have been significantly reduced from what is normally available. This reduced operational response capability is despite the SFRS working to put in place contingency arrangements for the periods of IA. In essence, the Service was preparing to use the available resources as well as could be expected in the circumstances.
20. A reduced operational response across Scotland during IA clearly represents a risk to communities that cannot be fully mitigated with the resources likely to be at the disposal of the SFRS. When the SFRS does respond to emergency calls during periods of IA, response times will be longer, and the weight of response is likely to be less than that achieved during Business as Usual (BAU) periods. Response times will also be extended due to the reduced level of resources available and increased travel time for appliances.
21. While the Inspection focused on overarching, but specific areas as set out above, it was clear that there were key issues that would require to be considered by the SFRS to allow for the maintenance of operational services at a reduced level of emergency cover during any period of IA. These were:
- Ensuring an adequate number of trained personnel were available to respond to emergency calls.
- Providing suitably equipped Fire Service emergency appliances and necessary logistical support for their ongoing deployment during IA from geographically suitable locations across Scotland.
- Providing appropriate infrastructure, personnel, and processes to manage the receipt of emergency calls and the mobilisation of appliances.