GEORGE SQUARE will host a mass rally of firefighters from across the UK this Thursday at 1pm.

The protest has been organised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) against Scottish Government cuts of £11 million from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) in 2023/24.

The demonstration is expected to be the second largest protest firefighters across the UK have undertaken in over a decade with a range of speakers for the day.

Emergency services become vital and lifesaving when you need them. In a crisis, time can be of the essence.

The FBU argue that reduced firefighter numbers and restricted appliance availability have already impacted on the viability of Scotland’s emergency fire service.

In the five years to 2021, response times to incidents increased by a full minute – from seven to eight minutes. Literally, a delay in controlling a fire can mean the difference between life and death.

It’s counterintuitive to be defunding our national fire service and particularly galling when you consider the world history of firefighting in Scotland.

James Braidwood founded the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824 and pioneered the science of modern fire-fighting. He was born in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School.

Edinburgh’s New Town was growing rapidly in the 1820s and there was an increasing number of fires in derelict buildings in the Old Town, which the firefighting capabilities provided by insurance companies were unable to tackle effectively.

Braidwood’s new public firefighting service was tested on the evening of 15 November 1824 when a fire broke on the second floor of the Old Assembly Close, off the High Street. This came to be known as the “Great Fire of Edinburgh” – which lasted five days – and a large part of the Old Town was destroyed.

Without the new Edinburgh firefighting service, we might not have saved St Giles Cathedral, the Court of Session and Parliament Hall and it’s fitting that a statute of James Braidwood stands in Parliament Square today commemorating the “Father of the British Fire Service”.

Braidwood went on to become the first head of the forerunner to the London Fire Brigade. In 1861, then aged 61, James Braidwood led a firefighting team to tackle a fire on the south bank of the River Thames and was killed when a wall collapsed on him. Lest we forget that every firefighter places his or her life in harm’s way each day for the safety of the public. That’s why the FBU has started the #CutsLeaveScars campaign to highlight to politicians and the public what the real impact of enforced cuts will be.

Funding cuts impact communities across Scotland and include the “mothballing” of 10 wholetime fire appliances, the reduction of high-reach appliances from 25 to 14, and the scrapping of the dedicated water rescue response covering the River Clyde.

They will also see a further significant reduction in firefighter posts across Scotland. SFRS anticipate a further £25m worth of savings will be needed to be found over the following three financial years up to 2026/27.

The FBU say these cuts will decimate the fire and rescue service in Scotland, undermining the credibility of SFRS as an effective emergency service protecting Scotland’s communities.

Firefighters say the cuts aren’t sustainable. They see the impact of underinvestment in their service every day and the increased risk to the public as a result.

In 2012/13, the combined resource budget for the eight legacy fire and rescue services totalled £290.7m. The first year of SFRS saw this budget cut by £13.5m to £277.2m in 2013/14. On June 19, 2023, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety confirmed that had the 2013/14 resource budget risen in line with inflation it would total £340.2m in 2023/24.

The resource budget set for SFRS in 2023/24 is £308.6m, a £31.6m real terms cut over a 10-year period. Using the 2012/13 resource budget figure of £290.7m, the FBU calculate that an overall £56.8 million real terms cut has been inflicted upon SFRS over the last 11 years.

The Service’s own statistics show a loss of over 1,100 firefighter posts in Scotland since the creation of SFRS.

Last October, in giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee, the SFRS Chief Fire Officer said that the impact of the resource-based spending review could see the loss of a further 780 full-time firefighter jobs and the removal of a further 30 fire appliances across Scotland by 2027.

Budget cuts means fewer firefighters and delayed response times. How can Scotland afford to increase the risk to our public safety?