Contingency Planning Arrangements for Industrial Action in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
Response to Major Incidents and Core Emergency Response During IA
56. The FBU announced on 4 January 2023 that it had come to an agreement with the NJC for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services in the UK to allow firefighters who are taking part in IA in the UK, including Scotland, to respond within parameters to a declared Major Incident. The arrangements for this are set out in the 'National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services circular 2/2022 (Appendix 2: Scotland) Responses to Major Incidents During Periods of Strike Action'2.
57. Arrangements for the return to work of OC staff, and the mobilisation of operational firefighters who are engaged in strike action, require to be agreed locally and to be robust in nature. At the time of carrying out this inspection, these mobilisation arrangements were being developed by the SFRS and the FBU (Scotland). The fact that both parties were willing to engage positively in these discussions is encouraging. However, major incidents occur only rarely for the SFRS. Incidents resulting in risk to the safety and life of persons within Scotland on the other hand are much more likely and this level of risk exists in a wide range of incidents, such as fires in houses or other buildings or road traffic accidents, that occur daily.
58. It was widely reported within the UK media that striking Ambulance staff in England continued to respond to all Category 1 life threatening incidents and Level 2 calls where these related to strokes and heart attacks. These calls are referred to as Life and Limb incidents and this term is relevant to potential Fire Service IA.
59. The absence of trained SFRS crews available during IA across urban areas of Scotland has already been set out in this report. Of particular concern is the delay in response to fire incidents involving persons within buildings that require to be rescued by firefighters wearing BA. Equally concerning are the probable longer emergency appliance response times in urban areas to road traffic collisions where trapped persons may require specialist assistance.
60. The military personnel who crew appliances which may be required to mobilise to these incident types, would not be trained to deal with these events effectively. Undoubtedly, military personnel who responded to these incident types would face unenviable moral choices, the outcomes of which could potentially bring negative outcomes for both the SFRS and for firefighters taking part in IA. These types of incidents are foreseeable and data layers, based on historical operational activity, for the ArcGIS system can effectively plot where they are most likely to occur.
61. We would urge a similar approach is taken in relation to Life and Limb calls as that which has been agreed in relation to Major Incidents. Mobilising criteria for Life and Limb emergency calls could be agreed, and the communications and mobilising processes that would enable firefighters engaged in IA to respond to these incidents could be modelled upon the details of NJC Circular 2/2022. Whilst IA has been avoided on this occasion, the SFRS should continue to engage with the FBU in this regard.
62. Recommendation 4 – The SFRS should continue to engage with local FBU representatives to develop a common approach to mobilising to a range of incidents during times of IA.