ONLY a handful of 999 vehicles across Scotland are fitted with winter tyres, fuelling fears of "a huge, unnecessary risk" to their crews and the public.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that of the 3340-strong police fleet, only 158 have them routinely fitted while 145 have "all year round" tyres.
The fire service "does not fit any winter tyres to any vehicles whether car, van or truck" as it believes such a policy would "contravene the manufacturers’ specifications for load speed index on such vehicles".
And the Scottish Ambulance Service’s 1451 vehicles are fitted with "cold weather" or "all season" tyres but only once they reach a replacement depth of 3mm.
With potentially serious consequences particularly in the Highlands which, this week, was hit by more snowfall, the emergency services’ responses horrified Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie who posed the questions.
He wants legislation to enforce the fitting of winter tyres on all vehicles in Scotland for relevant months of the year and warned there was a huge risk to emergency service personnel and the public if their fleets were not fitted with winter tyres at relevant times.
"The police have a duty to keep the public safe but also to keep their officers safe and I don’t see how police cars skating about on the ice is keeping either of those groups safe," he said.
He calculated that the additional cost of fitting all police cars with winter tyres for the key months would be about £233,000 which he said was "0.02 per cent of the police budget and a price worth paying".
He said it "beggars belief" that less than five per cent of their vehicles have an option of snow tyres.
"To say they have no policy is worrying in itself, when I’ve witnessed A9 patrol cars, clearly without sufficient tyres, struggling to get a grip.
"To my knowledge, in most European countries it’s either a legal requirement or, if you’re involved in an accident, you’ll be deemed liable if winter tyres are not fitted during those months of the year.
"If I were an MSP, I’d be lobbying to make winter tyres compulsory."
Fellow Highland councillor Matthew Reiss, a former Caithness, Sutherland and East Ross area police commander, supports the idea of 999 vehicles having winter tyres, reflecting the local policy during his tenure – before the creation of the single Police Scotland force.
"The only exception was the higher performance vehicles which weren’t generally used in bad weather for obvious reasons," he said.
A police spokesperson said: "The vehicles are fitted with these tyres in conjunction with requirements from operational policing in local areas.
"The requirement for this is evaluated on an ongoing basis."
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We carry out full and regular safety checks to ensure our vehicles can operate in the most challenging weather conditions, such as snow, ensuring the safety of both patients and staff on board.”
Mr Jarvie said he considered the response from the fire service "a total joke".
He said: "It’s worrying if that’s their genuine position – that the use of winter tyres would ‘contravene the manufacturers’ specifications’ as they stated in their response."
He raised the issue of fire engines being involved in a costly accident in February 2016, when the vehicles skidded into a field beside the B9006 Inverness-Nairn road early one morning while responding to an earlier accident in which two people were trapped.
Mr Jarvie said: "You avoid one large accident like that and you’ve paid for the cost of them for many years to come."
An internal inquiry into the crash concluded in November 2016 that black ice was the cause of the two engines going off the road.
It also found that the emergency response speeds for both £260,000 appliances "were in excess of guidance for this type of road".
The fire service’s director of response and resilience, Lewis Ramsay, said: "The tyres fitted to our vehicles must be capable of withstanding extreme forces, bearing heavy loads at high speeds on a multitude of road surfaces and conditions.
"As such, we choose and fit our tyres according to both the vehicle manufacturer and tyre manufacturer’s specifications to help ensure the safety of not only our firefighters, but other road users. All replacement tyres fitted to our fire appliances are rated for road and tarmac use and are capable of tackling difficult conditions such as mud and snow.
"Additionally, our firefighters are trained to an extremely high standard to ensure they can safely handle a large vehicle such as a fire appliance at various speeds and in all conditions."
Mr Jarvie was more reassured by the ambulance service response to his questions but was also "somewhat bemused" by its wait for summer tyres to reach their tread limit before fitting winter ones.