Outcry as Borders firefighters forced to put lifesaving project on hold

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

Lives could be lost due to a pilot project drafting in firefighters to help heart attack victims across the Borders being suspended, it is feared.

Officers at Hawick, Lauder and Coldstream fire stations have been involved for the last year in the trial scheme, launched to tackle the hitherto-low survival rate in the region among people suffering cardiac arrests.

Firefighters received specialist training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator use so they could support the overstretched ambulance service during call-outs to emergencies.

However, the Fire Brigades Union has suspended the trial over demands for extra pay for firefighters involved.

That move has been condemned by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and it has released figures showing that firefighters in trials across Scotland have saved dozens of lives since the scheme was launched nationally in November 2015.

The decision was labelled “madness” at a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s Teviot and Liddesdale area locality committee this week.

Members were informed by Hawick fire station manager Russell Bell that, thanks to the scheme, “we have saved a number of lives”.

He expressed anger at the decision and the hope that national negotiations will see the project reinstated.

Mr Bell said: “For many months now, we have been assisting the ambulance service.

“At this particular point in time, this trial has been suspended as national negotiations are going on with regard to the firefighters’ role.

“Locally, we are furious about it. We’re not happy at all and feel very let down, but hopefully we will see this return to us very, very shortly.

“Lauder and Coldstream stations are involved in this trial too, and they feel exactly the same way, but we’re at the behest of national negotiations.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson told Tuesday’s meeting, held at the town’s Tower: “That is shocking. I’m absolutely disgusted. You’ve actually saved lives. Why take it away?

“As a committee, we should write and tell them how strongly we feel about this because if one life is saved because of this, that is enough.”

Fellow ward councillor Watson McAteer agreed, saying: “This is one service we see the benefits of, and it is madness to take it away.

“Anything we need to do to save this service should be done very quickly.”

Steve Gourlay, senior fire and rescue service officer for the Borders, said afterwards: “The out-of-hospital cardiac arrest trials were halted by the Fire Brigades Union.

“Our firefighters had stepped into a new area of rescue, responding quickly and effectively to help save lives.

“In fact, they potentially saved 41 people suffering an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest within the first 12 months of the trials being launched in November 2015.

“Their commitment is outstanding, and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service fully supports their right to a significantly improved recognition package to reflect this wider role.

“We ask the union to once again enter into discussions that will deliver outcomes that are not only in the best interests of our firefighters but also our communities.”

A spokesman for the union said: “When the scheme was launched, it was meant to be a six-month trial, not a two-year one.

“We were hoping that there would be an offer in terms of increased pay to recompense firefighters for extra responsibility, but the offer never came.

“Fire crews have engaged fully in this scheme for two years and helped save several lives despite cuts which have seen 500 firefighters posts go.”