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Latheron, Lybster & Clyth Community Council
Fire Action Group

13 February 05
Dear Sir
Lybster Fire Unit - Integrated Risk Management Strategy - Consultation
Deadline 13 February 2005

With respect to the consultation that includes the Lybster Fire Unit I wish to make the following points -

I am not in agreement with the proposals that include the effective downgrading of the unit to prevent them from attending house and premises fires. Whilst I understand the need for training and the use of breathing apparatus in certain circumstances I feel that the unit should be provided with the necessary finance and training to use such equipment if the rural population in Caithness is not to have a reduced service. The times taken from Dunbeath or Wick are I feel open to question and waiting on units to arrive from either of these places will mean the the population in another part of Caithness will be at higher risk that previously. Although fires in premises are low in this part of Highland I and many others are unhappy that we are reducing what has been seen as a vital service by the community.

The Dunbeath unit's ability to attend fires due to reducing numbers and difficulty in local recruitment call into question any assumptions about their ability to maintain a service in the future even if they have been able to in the past.

The Lybster unit have been able to maintain a supply of recruits due to the higher population and age levels whereas Dunbeath has a more rapidly ageing population.

Initiative At The Edge
The east coast of Caithness which includes Lybster and Dunbeath has only just been included in this programme which is backed by the Scottish Executive. Areas are included in such programmes to try to encourage development and stop the reduction of populations and the run down of their economies and indeed to try to reverse the situation with growth. The ability to do so is not helped by other government backed agencies reducing local services. I would point to the possibility that this reduction is seen as a very negative step both locally and in the wider Caithness and Highland communities. It relates a lack of confidence that population levels will remain level or increase.

Areas of Concern Regarding Cover For Premises Fires
Forse House

As area chairman of for Caithness of Housing and Social Work I would like to express my concern regarding Forse House a care home in the area previously covered by the Lybster unit. This care home caters for vulnerable individuals with a variety of mental health problems and they range in across the age spectrum. The building is very old and has I feel particular dangers despite fire exits and other precautions being in place. In some circumstances of fire there would be a real need for fast evacuation with the danger of people being caught up in smoke filled rooms. Although the home is fully staffed I think this is one of the most vulnerable situations in the Lybster area and it should be weighted more heavily in your considerations.

There are several hotels within the Lybster unit area and I am concerned about the reduction in cover that has already occurred due to the restrictions placed upon the Lybster unit as the firemen do not have the now required breathing apparatus or training to use it.

New Holiday Chalets & Centre
A new set of holiday chalets is planned for the area and this will add to the numbers of buildings that might be included in both population and other risk factors.

Dunbeath Unit
It appears from recent reports that the Dunbeath unit may be operating outside of the regulations as to numbers attending as they cannot make up the required numbers to crew the tender from time to time. This is a cause for concern at time when the Lybster unit that appears to be more often able to muster a crew has not the equipment and is being restricted in what it can attend - such as house fires.

In Favour Of The Lybster Unit
A very close local knowledge of the area and its building and population.  The response time is much shorter with a unit in Lybster to the surrounding population than anything that can be achieved by Dunbeath or Wick.  Although fires are not common the local response is almost certain to prevent the loss and damage to properties -stopping fires spreading from one part of a building to the rest even if it were nothing more than applying a hose from outside the building.

The turnout of the Lybster can save the need for mustering units in Wick and possibly Thurso who may need to respond to provide back up cover for the other units. There is a saving in cost when these responses are prevented.  An active and dedicated crew with the backing of the local community who have supported the unit over many years and indeed helped purchase items for it.

Population Statistics And Risk Factors
The population statistics appear low and as the area has a number of bed and breakfasts, hotels, caravans and holiday homes that are occupied often mainly in the summer months I would question if the risk factors fully take this into account. Further their are plans to re-open Rumster Forest Centre and have it rebuilt possibly as large log cabin structure for young people using it as residential centre for activities.  Similarly for road traffic the number of visitors driving in the area is significantly higher in the summer months and often with drivers from Europe not used to driving on the right and much more in danger of causing serious road accidents when the forget to drive on the left.

Dangers Of Not Having A Unit
In some circumstances of life and death and in the absence of a local unit members of the public may well try to remedy the fire and rescue people in the building if they are in danger of dying especially if it is family members. The public will know that it may be 20 minutes before a unit can arrive and will take their own action instead of waiting on a unit to arrive. The dangers of this will be significantly greater that at present.

I understand the budget pressures that may be making it difficult to retain all of the units around Highland but it would seem from this consultation that centralisation is partly driving this forward. Health and Safety regulations are also involved but it would seem that these are not properly taking into account the needs of rural areas and residents. Whilst certain levels of training and equipment are certainly desirable it cannot be right that rural populations must have reduced service to ensure that more urban units meet the standards and criteria that we would all wish to see. The regulations regarding supply, use of and training for Breathing Apparatus appears to be critical in this siuations and is a major reason for the reduction in services for the Lybster unit. the fact that it would rarely be required does not appear to be given enough weight. The blanket application of the Health and Safety rules seems a heavy approach to forcing a rationalisation that might not be required if a more considered approach were taken.

If funding cannot be found to allow the Lybster unit to attend house and other property fires I suggest that a basic set of rules for the unit to follow might include attending but not entering a building and dealing with any aspect that could reasonably be done from outwith the building. At a later date this might be reviewed to see if funding could be found to upgrade to the use of Breathing Apparatus.

There is undoubtedly a need to continually review and improve services but this cannot purely be about improving the equipment in Lybster or any other area and spending more money on apparent benefits when the more local services particularly in rural areas are seen to be rundown. There needs to be a closer look at and perhaps greater weighing attached to services in rural areas whether fire, police or health services if we are not to have second class service for people in remote and rural parts of Highland and elsewhere. Urban centre will naturally have lower costs as they serve greater populations but the needs of smaller rural areas must be addresses or we face the danger of having less and less as time goes by making life in rural areas harder than ever and forcing greater numbers to leave. At a time when Initiative At The Edge is seen as necessary it can only be more detrimental to have the Lybster area unit unable to tackle house fires and I would ask for more consideration to increasing the investment to ensure that this is possible.

Restricting the crews to road accidents and hill fires as outlined in the document will possibly lead to the complete rundown of the unit as men join the service to ensure the safety of their local community and save lives. Attending heath fire whilst it may be useful rarely saves lives in the Caithness context and may well not be seen as a reason to join the local unit in future. The future of the unit would therefor seem to have greater chance of survival if the link between saving of lives at house fires and other premises is once again assured and I ask that this be given consideration before a final decision is made on the future of the Lybster unit and the services it provides.

Yours sincerely

Bill Fernie
Highland Councillor - Wick West
Caithness Area Chairman - Housing And Social Work