Scotland has twice as many fire deaths as England and Wales, despite running the most expensive fire brigades in Britain, according to the public-spending watchdog.
High levels of deprivation, poor housing, high rates of smoking and alcohol abuse, and more rural communities are cited as possible reasons for the disparity by Accounts Commission chairman John Baillie.
The commission criticised councillors who are reluctant to close underused fire stations in their electoral wards because they fear a public backlash, even though resources might be better deployed elsewhere.
Mr Baillie told Holyrood’s audit committee that the most effective fire services benefit from “economies of scale”, where a small number of stations serve a large centralised population.
Audit Scotland portfolio manager Gordon Neill told the committee that rural stations and stations in irregularly shaped cities, such as Dundee, were the least cost-effective.
Fire services elsewhere in Britain had also spent more money on prevention in the past, said Mr Neill. But even the firefighters did not fully understand why the costs and deaths were so high in Scotland.