Calls have been made for firefighters to be given Covid jabs “as soon as possible” after new figures revealed the toll coronavirus has taken on the workforce.
During the first seven months of the pandemic, 234 crew members from across the north of Scotland had to take sick leave due to the virus.
The vast majority of these were due to the firefighter self-isolating or experiencing symptoms, with only a handful of confirmed cases.
The new statistics, released by the Scottish Conservatives using freedom of information legislation, cover November 2019 to October 2020.
They show the most absences in a single month took place in March 2020, just as Covid-19 was beginning to sweep the nation.
Of the 146 total sick days taken, 79 – more than half – were related to Covid.
The crew member absences cover the entirety of the Scottish Fire And Rescue Service’s (SFRS) north division, which works across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Dundee, the Highlands, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.
Over the same period there were 532 Covid sick days taken in the west division, and 226 in the east.
Firefighters ‘can’t be put on back burner’
Alexander Burnett, the Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, said the figures prove the need for key workers to be prioritised in the vaccine roll-out.
In January, the most senior police officer in Scotland said he had “legitimate concerns” around when his staff would receive their jabs – revealing he had personally raised the matter with government ministers.
The Scottish Government, however, said it is continuing to follow the Joint Committee On Vaccination And Immunisation (JCVI) guidance, which is to prioritise those most at risk from dying.
Mr Burnett said: “Fire crews have kept the north-east functioning through this pandemic and these figures show they are more exposed to the virus.
“The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work and it’s vital this is maintained.
“As the vaccination rates continue to make a difference, it’s important key workers like firefighters aren’t put to the back burner – they are still at risk of Covid on a daily basis.
“Fires and other non-virus related emergency incidents won’t stop as we recover from the pandemic and it’s important this is remembered.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The JCVI’s advice is that an age-based approach is the best way to quickly protect those who haven’t yet had the vaccine but who are at increased risk due to occupation, ethnicity or other factors.
“The priority list has been designed to target those most at risk from the virus and a proportion of Scottish Fire And Rescue Firefighters will have already received the vaccine already due to their age, and in line with be offered the vaccine in line with this.
“We are still aiming to have offered the first dose to all over-18s by the end of July.”
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief officer, Stuart Stevens, added: “We support the Scottish Government’s position in prioritising the most vulnerable in our communities and those administering the vaccine, and we remain ready to assist if required.
“The safety of communities is our highest priority and we have maintained the ability to respond to every emergency whilst also offering our fullest support in line with Health Protection Scotland guidance to any member of our staff who has tested positive for Covid-19.”