A FIRE chief today condemned the metal thieves who put the lives of firefighters and the residents of a skyscraper at risk by vandalising vital fire fighting equipment in the tower block.
• Metal thieves have been blamed for endangering the lives of firefighters and residents after a crews struggled to extinguish a fire in Aberdeen
• Thieves had stolen the copper piping on the dry riser fire fighting system of the 18-storey building, forcing firefighters to use extinguishers and buckets of water
Firefighters were forced to use extinguishers and buckets of water to tackle a blaze in the tower block after two separate fires - which may have been started deliberately - were discovered in the multi-storey block of flats at Kings Court in the Tillydrone area of Aberdeen in the early hours of the morning.
Metal thieves had stolen or destroyed the copper piping on the dry riser fire fighting system on five floors of the 18-storey block, making it impossible to pump water at pressure up to the areas where firefighters were tackling the two outbreaks on the communal landings of the 10th and 12th floors.
Garry Burnett, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service group commander for Aberdeen City, said the “reckless” actions of the vandals had endangered the lives of both his firefighters and local residents.
He said: “These thieves have put the safety of both the public and the safety of my firefighters at risk. Five dry riser outlets which allow us to connect our hoses on each floor had either been vandalised or the copper pipes had been stolen. It put the system, which goes from the ground floor to the 18th, totally out of operation because we need all the outlets in place.
“We were aware very quickly that those risers weren’t working and used mainly fire extinguishers and buckets of water and a poor jet from the dry riser system to tackle the fires.”
Mr Burnett explained that the dry riser system, which goes up through the building, should have allowed firefighters to connect their hoses to the pressurised system on any floor. At least five outlets had been vandalised or the pipes had been stolen.
He said: “If the water was pouring out at the first and second floors you can imagine the type of flow we were getting at the 10th and 12th floors. These people who are either vandalising or stealing these outlets don’t seem to realise the risk to the people in that building and the risk to my staff.”
Mr Burnett explained that the theft of copper piping from dry riser systems had become an increasing problem confronting firefighting crews in Aberdeen and elsewhere in Scotland due to the rising prices thieves can get from scrap metal.
He said there had been at least two previous incidents in the city within the past year. And he continued: “We are also aware of this happening in the Central Belt and in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is sad that in the current financial climate people will go to that extent to get a few pennies for scrap metal.”
A spokesman for the Grampian Division of Police Scotland said that emergency services had been called to Kings Court at 4.15am this morning after an automatic fire alarm had activated at the multi-storey flats at Kings Court..
He said: “Five fire pumps attended, accompanied by units from Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service. Fires were found on the communal landings of the 10th and 12th floors on the north side of the building, which were quickly extinguished. No residents required to be evacuated and nobody required medical treatment.
“The cause of the fire is at this time unexplained and a joint fire investigation is to be carried out later today.”
It was revealed last week at the launch of a national crackdown on metal theft that the illegal trade in scrap metal now costs Scotland £12 million a year.
And today Lewis Macdonald, the North East Labour MSP, called on the Scottish Government to even take stronger action to combat the growing crime wave.
He said: “Metal thefts are sometimes seen as a nuisance crime affecting only the building trade. Today’s events illustrate how these thieves are actually putting the lives of the public at risk. SNP Ministers must do more to prevent these crimes and track down those responsible, and that is why I am calling today for them to ban cash payments for scrap metal.”
Mr Macdonald claimed: “Licensing alone will not solve the problem. Metal will continue to be stolen, and lives put at risk, as long as scrap metal dealers are permitted to take cash. Ban cash payments and offenders will have no outlet for their stolen goods.
”The residents of Kings Court are fortunate that this morning’s fire was only a minor one, and that the firefighters on the scene reacted quickly and effectively to a difficult situation.”