The Scottish Government must intervene to repair the damage to the fire and rescue service caused by centralising control in Dundee, a former senior officer said this week.
Alec Kidd, who served for 32 years as area manager before retiring in 2008, also hit out at fire service bosses for their “arrogant and insulting” response to his revelations last week concerning a catalogue of blunders that have affected call outs in the Highlands and Islands.
Since control over dispatching crews was moved to Dundee early last month, a number of inexplicable call outs have happened.
For the first time in living memory the Raasay fire crew were called off-island on 22nd December to attend a road traffic collision on Skye, as they were deemed to be the closest station. After the crew informed the Dundee control room, a tender from Kyle attended instead.
According to Mr Kidd, also within the last month a crew from Lairg in Sutherland was tasked with attending an incident on Skye. This would have involved a return trip of over 200 miles.
Mr Kidd highlighted several other inappropriate call outs that have taken place over the last few weeks, including a crew from Thurso who were dispatched to Dundee to attend an incident in a street with the name “Thurso” in it; a fire crew from Bressay in Shetland who were called to an incident on another island, Yell, because it “looked closer on the map”; and a crew from Beauly who were alerted to a fire in Dingwall because the control room was allegedly unaware that Dingwall had its own station.
Mr Kidd added: “It’s incredible, but the official statement from the service on these incidents admits that there is an inherent 10-minute delay now in the system. By the time the crews get called out, get to station, realise they’ve been misdirected, and call control to tell them, that’s the 10 minutes. In rural areas, the mobilisation is quite complex and I don’t think Dundee get that. It defies belief. This has been a disaster from day one, but the warning that this would happen have been there for years. But this is not for the fire service itself to sort out, the solution has to come from the Government.”
In response to Mr Kidd’s allegations, the service spokeswoman said: “The public can rest assured we continue to attend at every emergency.
“Since the transfer of the Inverness control room, we have identified a number of systemic and procedural issues that we are now moving to rectify.
“We have now had the proper time required to look at the full facts and circumstances behind the unsubstantiated claims regarding our attendance at incidents and we are satisfied that we attended at each incident with the correct resource.
“Our modern fire and rescue service also no longer operates some of the procedures referred to in the unsubstantiated claims. Any firefighter or operational control staff will know that local knowledge is derived not only from our operations control but from the highly experienced local crews based across the north.”
Regarding the Lairg-Skye call out, the spokeswoman added: “On 12th December, we received a request from the Scottish Ambulance Service to switch on lights at the helicopter landing site at Broadford, Skye. A crew at Broadford and a crew at Lairg were paged.
“The crew at Lairg was quickly contacted and stood down before leaving their station. The crew at Broadford duly mobilised and attended.”
Councillors press service for answers to call-out blunders
Skye councillor Hamish Fraser has pressed the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for a “full report” into the recent alleged mistakes in a number of call-outs in the Highlands handled by the Dundee control room.
Mr Fraser (pictured below) – chair of Highland Council’s Community and Partnerships Committee, whose role is to scrutinise and receive reports on the performance of the service – said he had been made aware of several issues being raised in the last few days relating to “alleged mobilisation issues” that are causing concern to the public.
He added: “These concerns have been raised as a result of the closure of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Inverness Command and Control Centre and all emergency and other calls transferred to Dundee. I have asked SFRS for a full report on the matters raised to date. It is vitally important that the Highlands are well and safely served by our emergency services.
“I welcome the council leader’s call for a meeting with the Minister for Community Safety to discuss the emerging issues and the potential alternative of a shared control room. In the meantime, it would be useful if members of the public who may become aware of, or are concerned about any issue, in relation to delivering a safe service, could contact their local fire station manager and their local elected member in order that any situation can be dealt with quickly and effectively.”
Meanwhile, the independent group of councillors – of which Mr Fraser is a member – has once again called for a shared control room for emergency services in the Highlands and Islands in light of potentially life-threatening errors which have occurred.
In a letter to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, council leader Margaret Davidson (pictured below) reiterated the independents desire for a shared control for all the emergency services which has been previously dismissed.
She said: “Local knowledge was severely underestimated and the Highlands and Islands solutions we offered were dismissed without sufficient consideration. We now face the same happening with the Police Scotland Control Room.
“This independent group has always fiercely opposed the idea of a centralised control room from day one, moreover, we have, and will continue to be strong advocates for a shared Highlands and Islands control room for the police, fire and ambulances’ services. This would be a more logical and safer alternative.
“The growing trend of centralising our keys services, as evidenced by these incidents, and the testimonial of a highly experienced former member of the fire service, clearly poses a significant threat to the efficiency and reliability of the emergency services in the Highlands and Islands, and most crucially the lives of the those who live here.”