FIRE appliances across Ayrshire are frequently unavailable for emergencies because of a lack of on-call firefighters.

Ayrshire Weekly Press has seen evidence that on at least two days last week, appliances from larger and smaller stations alike across the area were noted on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s own system as being unavailable for service because there are insufficient staff to operate them safely.

The evidence provided to us suggests that the problem frequently affects around half of all Ayrshire’s fire appliances – from stations including  Skelmorlie, Dalry, Kilbirnie, Stevenston, Ardrossan, Dreghorn, Mauchline, Troon, Maybole, Girvan, Colmonell, New Cumnock and Muirkirk - were unavailable to attend emergencies.

The revelation comes after Ayrshire lost one of its two specialist high-reach fire appliances earlier this year as the region feels the impact of £11 million worth of cuts to firefighting budgets.

One serving Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) officer said: "Ayrshire residents and businesses are being put at an unacceptable risk due to this decision."

The only remaining high reach appliance in Ayrshire is based in Kilmarnock.

Area commander Ian McMeekin insisted the loss of the high reach appliance which was formerly based in Ayr – and which has now been replaced by a standard vehicle – would not put lives in danger, saying cover would be provided, when needed, by other areas of the west of Scotland.

This week, data released to Scottish Labour via freedom of information request by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) showed wholetime fire appliances were “off the run” 1,405 times in West Scotland last year, a 154 per cent increase since 2019.

Meanwhile, Retained Duty System (RDS) appliances, available to on call firefighters providing cover, were off the run 31,342 times in West Scotland, a 23.4 per cent increase since 2018.

Across Scotland, wholetime fire appliances were “off the run” 6,272 times in 2022, a 137 per cent increase in just three years. 

The move comes as Ayrshire's fire services faces a personnel shortage - with a struggle to keep part time firefighters, leaving many of the county's fire engines unable to attend emergencies, according to the firefighter, who described the situation as "appalling".

On the loss of Ayr's high reach appliance, our source said: "As well as the obvious benefit of being able to conduct rescues from high rise homes and offices, height appliances are often the only safe way to deal with a fire in a roof space.

"They are therefore vital for the safety of firefighters at incidents which require work on a roof.

"Ayrshire residents and businesses are being put at an unacceptable risk due to this decision.

"In the event of Kilmarnock's aerial appliance not being available due to maintenance or attending another callout, the next closest height vehicle with a full-time crew will be based in Greenock or Glasgow."

Our source said the situation on the afternoons of Monday, September 4 and Tuesday, September 5, when around half of the service’s vehicles in Ayrshire were not available for service, was commonplace.

They added: "The level of cover being offered in Ayrshire is appalling, and that example is typical of most days now.

"The fire service simply cannot retain its part-time workforce and endless recruitment campaigns have not been successful.

"The management will tell you it's because of a decline in employment in many of the towns staffed by on-call crews, who often leave their jobs to attend emergencies, but that's not the case.

"It's the bad management of the fire service in this area which is responsible, and this is causing firefighters to leave, while a lengthy and complicated recruitment process deters potential new firefighters from applying.

"There are more pumps off the run now than ever before in my 25 years of service."

Area Commander Ian McMeekin is the local senior officer for East, North and South Ayrshire.

He said: "The removal of Ayr's high reach appliance is part of a review of high reach appliances across Scotland.

"These height vehicles are national assets which can be strategically deployed to incidents across the country.

"As a national service, our highly trained operations control staff have the flexibility to mobilise the closest and most appropriate fire appliance to any incident."

Mr McMeekin continued: "We are continuously striving to recruit more on call firefighters, but we do need people to step forward to help us.

"On call firefighters provide an exceptional service to remote and rural communities. But it's true that recruitment and retention is a challenge right across Scotland - and that's why we have taken steps to address this.

"For instance, across Ayrshire, there are now four full-time on-call support officers who review crewing daily and work to support appliance availability and the recruitment and training of staff.

"Our Pre-Recruitment Engagement Programme (PREP) also allows candidates to work with local stations prior to any formal assessments to gain insight into the role and the commitments required.

"We remain absolutely committed to supporting our on-call crews."

West of Scotland MSP Katy Clark, who is Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for Community Safety, said: “These dramatic statistics are just the latest example of the deep impact that a decade of cuts has had on Scotland’s fire and rescue service.

“Response times have worsened, stations are in disrepair and hundreds of jobs have been lost. Now, we are seeing vital appliances withdrawn, even though the data suggests appliances are already frequently unavailable, whether it be due to mechanical defects or staffing issues. This is not sustainable.

“Staggeringly, the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government does not even mention the massive challenges firefighters are facing, even in light of hundreds of them making their voices heard at a mass rally in Glasgow earlier this month.

“These cuts are having serious consequences and are making firefighters, who put their lives on the line, and the wider public less safe. This latest bombshell must be a wake-up call. Ministers must not ignore warnings and finally come forward with an emergency plan to save this lifeline service.”