Hawick fire station staff cut won’t affect service, townsfolk reassured

Hawick fire station manager Russell Bell.
Hawick fire station manager Russell Bell.

A reduction in staffing levels at Hawick fire station will not result in a poorer service to the public, a fire chief has reassured townsfolk.

A new five-watch duty system is to be adopted at the Howdenbank station from next month.

That will result in the number of staff based there being cut from the current 28 to 25.

However, at this week’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s Teviot and Liddesdale area forum, Hawick station manager Russell Bell assured members that the new approach would provide a “more flexible and effective use of staff” and would not impact on the number of staff available to attend operational incidents in and around the town.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer said he believed the staff reduction was more of a “paper exercise” than anything more worrying.

He has received assurances that the new shift pattern, part of a change in policy nationally, would not affect the service negatively and said he hoped the changes would result in the fire service in Hawick remaining an “effective and efficient organisation”.

Mr Bell said: “In April, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will introduce a common duty system throughout all whole-time stations in Scotland.

“The five-watch duty system is currently in use within the majority of the west service delivery area and will now be rolled out nationally.

“Staff figures at Hawick Station will reduce from a total of 28 to 25, with five watches of five replacing four watches of seven.

“The new system provides a more flexible and effective use of staff and will not affect the number of staff who, day to day, attend operational incidents on the fire engine or as part of a water rescue team.

“A buffer number of staff, totalling three, will also be retained at Hawick station as the new system is introduced, recognising future planning to counteract upcoming retirements.”

Mr McAteer said: “I have been assured that while Hawick fire station is reducing its operational strength from 28 to 25 to fit a new national shift pattern, this appears to be a paper exercise, given the plan to retain the reduction in contingency roles.

“I have also been told that Hawick has more than 10 retained firefighters who are regularly called out to support the full-time team.

“I look forward to seeing if this new shift system provides the operational resilience required to keep the fire service in Hawick an effective and efficient organisation.”

Meanwhile, an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest project trialled in Hawick is set to be extended.

Crews, both whole-time and retained duty staff, have received training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator use to respond to cardiac arrest emergencies.

Firefighters, often first at the scene of a roadside emergency, are now able to provide a lifesaving service.

Mr Bell said: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service realises that, as a public service, we need to diversify and innovate as the needs of our communities become sharper in focus.

“One of these focus areas is out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, where the survival rate is very low if no immediate assistance is available.

“Hawick is now a live asset and is on a standby to meet the needs of our local communities.

“The extended trial period is now finished. A report has been passed on to the service’s strategic leadership team with recommendations that the trial stations continue to offer the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest service and that it is rolled out to all stations in Scotland via a three-year delivery plan.”