Firefighter mental health could suffer under new roles

By Ben Kearney

Poor mental health within the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will only increase, if firefighters accept a pay-rise that will include a broadened adult social care role, a top union official has said.  

The SFRS has offered an overall pay increase of 17% in stages until July 2022. The offer is currently being balloted, with the Fire Brigade Union urging members to reject. John Malcolm, West Area Secretary of the FBU has said:

“We understand the benefits of the offer, however, we still have huge concerns over OCHA+ and how it will affect our firefighters. We do not have enough clarity on the training we will receive on this area, and how it will deprive our core skills training.”

Additional roles will see crews deployed to adult social care incidents – even before ambulances if none are available. Malcolm believes this is a huge problem:

“We are already seeing The Scottish Ambulance Service abuse our memorandum of understanding. Last year we had a call-out in December to help an elderly gentleman who had fallen at home. Without an ambulance ETA, we had to administer oxygen therapy while on location for 9 hours using a relief crew. This type of incident is unfortunately not a one-off.”

Chief Officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Martin Blunden responded: “Providing a slips, trips and falls response is a critical development in supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. 

He added: “With more than 23, 000 people aged over 65 having to be admitted to hospital because of this, we can make a real difference in helping to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

Malcolm believes an area that has not been fully addressed in the deal is the impact it could have on firefighters: “We already have a massive problem with mental health – our measures in place at the moment are weak and the strain of these new roles will only add to the level of stress. In stations with OCHA+ being trialed, they have all reported an increase in cases of work-related stress.”

The SFRS have made clear that any offer must include OCHA+ and that is a fair increase. By June 2022, Scottish firefighters basic salary will be £35,734 if the offer is accepted. Blunden commented: “We believe this remains the best possible pay offer and that we have included all of the necessary safeguards and control measures to ensure the broadened role can be delivered successfully and safely in Scotland.”

Key Terms:

OHCA+ – Out of hospital cardiac arrest and additional adult social care. This is the disputed area that will see firefighters carry out these additional roles.

Memo of understanding – an agreement between the two organisations that explains a common line of action for call-outs.

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