South Lanarkshire councillors are calling for local fire services to be protected due to cuts at Hamilton fire station.

A proposal to raise awareness over the removal of a fire engine at Hamilton fire station was brought forward by councillor Richard Nelson (Larkhall) who warned that it is putting pressure on retained service and increasing the risk of reduced services in the South Lanarkshire communities.

Councillors at the full council meeting on November 1 agreed to write to the Chief Fire Officer and the Scottish Government to request that the removal of the appliance be reinstated.

Councillor Nelson, who brought forward the motion, outlined the knock-on effect of the removal of the fire appliance across South Lanarkshire.

He said: “I would like to mention the retained service in my own ward of Larkhall and the impact the loss of this appliance in Hamilton is having on that service.

“This service relies solely on on-call firefighters who need to be in and around the town and respond via a pager system. Some of these firefighters are already working excessive hours to maintain emergency cover, and they have to leave their current employment to attend the emergencies which puts added pressure on individuals and their work commitments.

“As callouts for the retained fire service increase due to the reduction in fire appliances in Hamilton, Larkhall and other retained services will have to respond outside their area, leaving Larkhall and other areas with no cover. This also affects the retained firefighters’ other duties. What if they cannot get away from their full-time employment? This could lead to no cover and a disastrous outcome for our local communities.

“Looking at the recent and devastating fires in East Kilbride, the Fire Brigades Union pointed out that the local fire station was empty because its two appliances and crew were in Edinburgh for training. Normally other stations would provide cover but they were hampered because appliances had been removed. The Fire Brigades Union has stated that the response times are increasing around the country due to cuts and every second counts in a fire. A one-minute delay can feel like an eternity when trying to keep someone safe, on their property, until crews arrive.

“These cuts and the removal of services are of great concern to all of us and put lives at risk in our own communities, I urge all members here today to come together to support this motion, to write to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services to reinstate the fire appliance in Hamilton and to ensure that the Scottish Government provides fair funding to the fire rescue service.”

The proposal was seconded by councillor Mark McGeever (Hamilton West and Earnock), who highlighted the important role of the fire service and the need for it to be equipped.

He said: “Changes to emergency service provision often get criticised by local elected members and it is important to note that this case is fundamentally different. It’s not the usual issue because this is a change that the experts that are running the fire service don’t want to make.

“They are not making the change because they think there is a better way of doing things or they can deliver the same service in a different way, it has been made because they have got to save money, their budget doesn’t go far enough to provide the level of service that we are used to and the level of service they will we need.

“Now there’s a reason that has been alluded to and spoken well by councillor Nelson as to why Hamilton has two fire engines and crews, and it’s a common message from the service that every minute and every second counts.

“That’s why they are urging us to have smoke alarms because every minute counts.  “The extra time that it will take to get a second fire engine, a second search and rescue crew, a second set of cutting apparatus to get people out of a collision on the road, that extra time will have consequences, hopefully not tragic consequences but we can’t be sure of that and nor can anyone else.

“Now, I don’t want to cause fear and alarm, I don’t want to make the public think they will have inadequate cover because I’m sure that the fire service will do everything it can do to shuffle things around and to mitigate the consequences of this enforced change. But they will be mitigating consequences, they will not be removing the consequence, they cannot remove the risk. The truth is when the fire service has to cut its cloth in this way it means cuts to the safety in our community to the extent of fire and rescue cover and it’s entirely right that we as a council say so today.”

Councillors at the meeting also brought up the catastrophic fire that took place in East Kilbride recently,  destroying six homes, and highlighted the need for prepared firefighters.

Councillor David Watson (East Kilbride West) said: “In passing the motions which I hope we do, we can pay respect and acknowledge our firefighters who face danger every day they turn up at work, they don’t know what they’re going into and cutting their resources can only be making their job more difficult and putting them in even more danger than they actually face on a day to day basis.”

The need for funding for vital services such as Scottish Fire and Rescue services was discussed by councillor Matthew Buchannan who raised concerns about the removal of equipment from Hamilton fire station.

He said: “I too would like to welcome the motion although it is unfortunate that it has become necessary. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service finds itself in a position similar to our own. They’ve had real terms funding cuts for over a decade and that’s set to continue until 2027, for 2024/25 the service will have to find over £14m which could mean the loss of 339 firefighters or loosing a further 18 appliances.

“The fire in my own ward in East Kilbride South has already been mentioned and the reasons for the delay have been mentioned – there were no crews at East Kilbride at the time and no cover provided as would previously have been the case. It took over 10 minutes for crews to arrive on the scene, I’ve actually heard it was as many as 17 minutes. By this time a small bedroom fire which could’ve been contained was out of control and by some miracle no one was hurt.

“Homes can be rebuilt and the community has rallied around the families, each family was handed over £2000 this week which I’m incredibly proud of. But this fire is a warning and we have to hear it loud and clear. What does it take to reverse the cuts, further delays in response time, and avoidable fatality? It’s life and death these cuts, and they have to be reversed not tomorrow or six months from now, they need to be reversed right now.”

Provost Margaret Cooper also spoke in favour of the motion, and said: “I just want to add as provost I fully support the motion today as well we live in the West of Scotland – one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland – and any reduction in such a significant service is bound to have an impact on the safety and security of our residents and residents around adjoining councils.”

And Councillor John Ross (Hamilton South) also expressed his support for the motion, saying: “I attended the last Hamilton area committee where we had officers from the fire service who came along and explained this operational decision. I must say that every political party at that meeting had raised concerns that this was indeed the right way forward and I think we all left that meeting with the feeling that this was not the right decision that should be taken by the fire service, so on that basis, we are happy to support the motion today.”

As well as the council writing to the Chief Fire Officer and the Scottish Government, it will also write to the relevant Scottish Government Minister to request that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service receive fair and competent funding to continue to provide a service that is safe and ensures the wellbeing of all.

SFRS officials previously said that Hamilton fire station will be supported by neighbouring crews at Motherwell, Bellshill and East Kilbride following the second appliance’s withdrawal, adding: “Operations control staff will always work to mobilise the closest and most appropriate fire appliance to an incident to ensure every emergency is attended to.”

Assistant chief officer David Farries said: “We will always maintain fire cover and continue to attend every emergency.

“We are set up based on historical risk and demand and must match our national network of resources to where they are needed most. We need to modernise our service to ensure we are best placed to protect the people of Scotland.”