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Warning that Scotland’s fire and rescue service faces threats from climate change and ageing Highland estate

By Alasdair Fraser

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Fire Brigade try to tackle wildfire on moor between Daviot Wood and Milton Of Leys Picture: Gary Anthony
Fire Brigade try to tackle wildfire on moor between Daviot Wood and Milton Of Leys Picture: Gary Anthony

Scotland's fire and rescue service must adapt to meet the risks of climate change and address significant issues across its ageing Highland buildings.

That is the message from one of the country's most senior fire officers as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) launches an online survey on what the emergency service should look like in the future.

Deputy assistant chief officer Stephen Wood, head of service delivery for the north of Scotland, said SFRS must ensure its crews and stations are ready to meet current and future risks such as flooding and wildfires.

SFRS is asking communities in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland to make their voice heard as it considers changes to the location of its firefighters and fire stations.

He said: “We want to be a modern service that is ready for the challenges of Scotland’s future.

Impact of Cannich wildfire on RSPB Cormionny Nature Reserve, Scotland, May 2023
Impact of Cannich wildfire on RSPB Cormionny Nature Reserve, Scotland, May 2023

“To achieve this, there are changes that we must consider. Scotland has changed and so must its fire and rescue service.

“For example, we have spent a long time analysing the changing community risk across the country and we know some of our stations and appliances are located based on historical risk, such as heavy industry that no longer exists.

“As a national emergency service, we must ensure we have the right resources, in the right place, at the right time.”

Mr Wood warned that some fire stations across Scotland have been deemed “not fit for purpose” and require urgent investment to make them safer and more suitable.

This includes 14 stations with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) panel issues.

Almost half of fire stations have been deemed in "poor or bad" condition while two-thirds of the total SFRS estate across Scotland is more than 30 years old.

Mr Wood said: “Some of our ageing buildings are no longer fit for purpose and require urgent action.

“We have a significant number of fire stations without provisions such as dedicated locker rooms, dignified facilities or sufficient showering facilities.

“Our buildings need to be safe, provide welfare facilities and comply with guidelines around decontamination after incidents to help protect our firefighters’ health.

“While we welcome the uplift in our capital budget, we do not have the budget to address this and doing nothing is simply not an option. We must find a permanent solution.

“By moving or merging stations in similar geographical locations, for example, we could address some of these welfare concerns while ensuring that we are best placed to meet the changing community risk across Scotland.”

Mr Wood also highlighted how SFRS now responds to fewer house fires but more incidents of flooding and larger, more intense wildfires.

Impact of Cannich wildfire on RSPB Cormionny Nature Reserve, Scotland, May 2023
Impact of Cannich wildfire on RSPB Cormionny Nature Reserve, Scotland, May 2023

He said: “Last year we saw extreme weather events that placed an unprecedented demand on our emergency service.

“This included one of the largest wildfires on record at Cannich in the Highlands and Storm Babet, which devastated many communities in the north east.

“These types of incidents require the deployment of hundreds of firefighters and often occur in areas where we do not have permanently staffed stations.

“We have prioritised investment and bolstered our fleet in recent years with the addition of 20 specialist water rescue boats and the implementation of 25 dedicated wildfire stations across Scotland.

“But we expect climate change to intensify and present further challenges that we must be prepared to meet.”

Other changes SFRS will consider in the future include the development of the firefighter role, how and when resources are crewed when responding to emergencies, and a review of SFRS corporate buildings.

The survey is open until the end of June and views gathered will help to develop change options for full public consultation later this year.

Mr Wood added: “We are calling on people across the country to share their feedback and tell us what you want from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

“We know we can do more to keep Scotland safe. We want to focus on prevention to make communities safer so we can reduce demand on both us and other public services.

“For example, we want to develop the role of our firefighters to take on more prevention work in our communities or support partners with emergency response activities, however this would require investment.

“Our communities are changing with more people living longer at home who need additional support.

“The benefits to the people of Scotland in working closer with our public service partners could be significant.”

The Shaping Our Future Service: Your Say survey runs until June 30 and can be found here.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

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