Highland communities left without firefighter cover due to staff shortages

Data shows that crews were unavailable at coastal stations stretching along 200 miles of the North Coast 500 route.

Campaigners say shortages in retained firefighter cover in the Highlands needs to be urgently addressed.

Data obtained by STV News showed crews were unavailable at coastal stations stretching 200 miles of the North Coast 500 route on one day in the summer – and only one crew on another occasion.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said it “continuously reviews resources” to ensure it attends every emergency.

But the information supplied to STV News exposed a coastal gap in fire cover all the way from Gairloch in the west to Helmsdale in the east.

Official records show black markers indicating unavailability right round the coast on June 23. Furthermore, there was just one available appliance in Wick on June 26.

STV News

A former Caithness area police commander, now Highland councillor, said he was alarmed at the data.

Councillor Matthew Reiss said: “My heart sank when I saw these images because it’s just completely unacceptable.

“I really hope the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service just speak in very plain English about this, confirm that they are accurate, and, frankly, be honest with the public that, at times, they have a real problem providing emergency cover.”

It’s a view shared by Michael Humphreys, the Highlands’ senior fire officer, who said the service “continuously reviews resources” to ensure it attends every emergency.

He added: “Where an appliance or personnel are unavailable, our operations control staff will mobilise the closest resources.

“We can strategically place resources wherever they may be required.”

The SFRS confirmed with STV News that availability was zero at Bettyhill for three days in June and that its second Kinlochleven appliance was unavailable for three days that month.

STV News

Fire chiefs have confirmed the need to save at least £14m pounds next year, which equates to the loss of more than 300 firefighters and 18 fire engines.

In the wake of angry firefighter protests at Holyrood last week, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have urged the Scottish Government to reverse what they call “years of neglect of the fire service”.

Party research found an ageing fleet, growing evidence of “resource pressure” and cuts to firefighter numbers.

The party’s justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “The scale of the cuts being proposed just seems, to me, unimaginable if we want to retain anything like the sort of fire service that we have at the moment.

“And let’s not forget that the fire service at the moment is enormously stretched and under huge pressure across the board.”

Highland councillors are to raise the issues in talks with senior fire officers later this month.

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