A data analysis by STV News reveals that several coastal fire stations along the popular tourist route were unavailable for days in June.
Why is fire cover important for the North Coast 500?
- The North Coast 500 is a scenic route that covers over 500 miles of the northern coast of Scotland.
- It attracts thousands of tourists every year who enjoy the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the region.
- However, the route also poses several fire risks, such as wildfires, road accidents, and electrical faults in remote areas.
- Therefore, having adequate and reliable fire cover is essential for the safety and well-being of the residents and visitors.
How did STV News obtain the data?
- STV News requested the official records of fire appliance availability from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) under the Freedom of Information Act.
- The records show the status of each fire station and appliance on a daily basis, indicating whether they were available or unavailable for emergency calls.
- STV News analysed the data for June 2021, focusing on the coastal stations along the North Coast 500 route.
What did the data reveal?
- The data revealed a worrying gap in fire cover along 200 miles of the coastal route, from Gairloch in the west to Helmsdale in the east.
- On June 23, none of the coastal stations were available, leaving a large area without any fire response capability.
- On June 26, only one appliance was available in Wick, which is far from other parts of the route.
- The data also showed that some stations, such as Bettyhill and Kinlochleven, were unavailable for three days in June.
What are the reasons for the unavailability?
- According to the SFRS, the main reason for the unavailability of fire appliances is the lack of personnel.
- Most of the coastal stations are staffed by retained firefighters, who are part-time volunteers who have other jobs or commitments.
- The SFRS said that it faces challenges in recruiting and retaining enough firefighters in rural areas, especially during peak tourist seasons when many locals are busy with other work.
- The SFRS also said that it has to balance the needs of different communities and ensure that resources are deployed where they are most needed.
What are the implications and solutions?
- The lack of fire cover along the North Coast 500 route could have serious consequences for public safety and property protection.
- In case of a fire emergency, residents and tourists may have to wait longer for help or rely on neighbouring stations that are far away or busy with other incidents.
- This could increase the risk of injuries, fatalities, and damage to homes, businesses, and natural resources.
- To address this issue, the SFRS said that it continuously reviews its resources and operations to ensure that it attends every emergency.
- It also said that it can strategically place resources wherever they may be required and mobilise the closest available appliances from other areas.
- However, some local councillors and firefighters have expressed their concerns about the cuts to staffing numbers and budgets that the SFRS faces in the next year.
- They have urged the Scottish Government to reverse what they call “years of neglect” of the fire service and invest more in its equipment, vehicles, and personnel.