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Latheron, Lybster & Clyth Community Council
Fire Action Group

30 January 2005

Fire Action Group Questions Statements In The Review
In the near future if the Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade get their way there is the possibility of loss of properties and fatalities occurring in a village in Caithness because of the ridiculous decision to downgrade the local fire unit.

Lybster Fire crew have been informed that their services in attending house and property fires are no longer needed due to an Integrated Risk Management Plan which is due to come into effect on the 31st March.

Local newspapers The John O’Groat Journal and the Caithness Courier carried articles last week 24th-28th January on this issue.

The responses to this document are due in no later than 13 February 2005 but the plan was only received on the 6th January and will be implemented from 31st March.

Instead of attending property fires in the largest village on the east coast of Caithness the unit is supposedly to be “upgraded” to attend RTAs and hill fires. They are not allowed at present to attend RTAs because it is too dangerous allegedly, and will not be allowed to attend property fires, even to tackle them from the outside only, as that is deemed now to be too dangerous. All the unit wishes is to be able to attend property fires until trained units of retained men arrive. To tackle a fire from outside the building to make the surrounding area safe, and to stop the public from endangering their lives is an important role which they presently fulfill but this is to be denied.

The whole issue has an air of crass stupid unreality wafting around it.

Some members of the local council have spoken to senior retired fire officers in the area and they are appalled at the suggestion that the fire services in the village are to be downgraded. This represents more down grading of rural services in an area, which has been identified as needing assistance through the Initiative at the Edge scheme. There are problems well documented with maternity services and dental services along with discontent with NHS24 services.

At a previous meeting with the Fire-master and the Convener of the Fire Board it was publicly stated and is on record in the press that communities will not be left less safe than they are at present (see attached item from Press & Journal)


This decision is not making the community of Lybster any safer!  Indeed the overriding feeling is one of a conspiracy to close the unit by stealth, as the supposed “upgrading” to RTAs won’t take place until next year and only after a review. A vehicle costing in the region of £30,000 is to be provided, allegedly, but think of the saving that could be made if the unit were to be closed. Figures will be looked at and the number of call outs will show a low total as the unit is at present prohibited from attending RTAs. This gives obviously a false impression of the value to the community the fire unit actually makes.

No doubt the decision will be made then to close everything down. Should this worst-case scenario arise be assured it will be fought with great determination at every opportunity.

Information was released to the press before Christmas to indicate that all was well and the unit was saved. This was misleading and most members of the community were left with the impression that there was nothing to worry about. Where the information came from is unsure but it is suspected it is Fire Board spin.

The draft review, which can be viewed on line at www.hifb.org , contains some mind-boggling statements.    Or go directly to Integrated Risk Management  - A Pdf doc

Example 1st page 4th para states:
“The occurrence of a property fire involving a dwelling or societal risk premises is very infrequent consequently as not all of these fires endanger life, the risk of injury or death from fire is very small”   Are not all fires potentially dangerous with great risk of injury or even death?

However this somewhat crass statement contradicts information contained on page 7 where it states:
“A life critical incident can be regarded as an incident with the potential to cause death or serious injury. Whilst all fires posses the potential to develop into life critical incidents statistical evidence identifies that the majority of fire related deaths and injuries occur within the home or sleeping accommodation”
So we go from not being, potentially, a problem to a life critical incident as any fire surely has the potential to cause death or serious injury!

It is stated that the nearest unit in Dunbeath can be on the scene in 15.15 minutes. There is no way that time can be met and there are those in the Fire Brigade who know this and will admit to it but never on the record, surprisingly! And yet as the report states there are two areas of high risk in Lybster. Remember this requires a unit to attend from approximately 9 miles away and the other is 14 miles away. There is a possibility that the nearest unit may not make it as they can have difficulties raising a crew at times, so the waiting time gets greater. Do the people just hang around and wait while the property burns? Of course not! The public is going to try to do something, thereby putting themselves and possibly others in jeopardy, thus increasing the risk of injury or even death. This, of course, won’t happen according to those responsible for the report. Indeed the local unit firemen, under their new remit, are to deliver notes on home safety to residents which states that if you have a fire and someone is not accounted for just wait outside and the Brigade will arrive in 15.15 minutes to save whoever is trapped inside. Ridiculous? Of course it is. Unreal? Definitely! People have to be questioned as to who makes this nonsense an initiative. They are certainly not part of the real world.

So while property in Lybster burns the local unit could be attending a hill fire anywhere, theoretically, in Highland, for that is what is expected of them under the new arrangements. From Ardnamurchan at one end to Cape Wrath at the other, to John O Groats in the east! And these arrangements are meant to make the community safer according to the Convener! (see attached press clipping)

The local unit has been instrumental in saving much property over the years that otherwise would have been lost because they were on hand ready to respond. Indeed they attended a fire in a neighbouring village two weeks ago but as far as can be gathered this is not being recognized in the records!

A similar situation occurred last year (see attached Letter from house owners) when they were able to secure the fire safely in the attic to no danger to themselves, otherwise they would not have entered the house, but were told by an officer at the incident that “they hadn’t entered the building”!

Lybster is the largest settlement and community on the east coast of Caithness apart from Wick. It has the largest primary school on the coast other than those in the town. There are three hotels in the village; two engineering works and a residential home for disabled people is nearby.  A number of elderly people live in sheltered accommodation. These people all pay council taxes and expect services the same as everyone else. This downgrading does not reflect these expectations.

The local council has formed a Fire Action Group to try to get this decision overturned and are actively seeking the help of the local MP and MSPs. Some have responded but disappointingly others have not yet done so. The deadline is tight and action is needed quickly.

Public Asked To Respond Quickly To Consultation Document
The public are being asked to respond immediately to this situation otherwise another service disappears and no amount of words, initiatives and other strategies will encourage businesses, and thus jobs, to the area when they hear that a fire service is to be withdrawn.

The Action Group asks you to help in any way to highlight this downgrading through press coverage or by making representation to the Highlands and Islands FireMaster, Fire Board to get hem to re think this decision.

Does it take a tragedy to get a rethink?

Marshall Bowman