Alasdair Hay: Single fire and rescue force will meet local needs

Picture: Gordon Fraser
Picture: Gordon Fraser
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ON THE cusp of the most ­significant reform of the fire and rescue services in Scotland since wartime, I can’t help but think how much the profession has changed during my career.

From a focus almost entirely on emergency response to one that puts prevention and protection at the heart of everything we do.

When I joined the fire and rescue service, it was to be a firefighter. I wanted to be part of that emergency response and to help people.

Early in my career, I witnessed many significant incidents and human tragedies; people who lost their homes and possessions through fire, businesses destroyed and in the worst cases, loss of life.

It leaves an indelible mark on those working in the emergency services. We know the pain behind every fire statistic or road traffic accident; we have ­witnessed first-hand the shock and ­devastation it brings.

With experience, I realised that whilst our emergency response will always play a vital role when things go wrong, we must strive to prevent emergencies happening in the first place. That’s what makes prevention and the protection of the public central to everything we do; it’s what drives me and my colleagues.

In my 30-year career, I’ve seen the range of skills you’ll find in the fire and rescue service and the breadth of incidents and issues we respond to evolve significantly.

We’re better prepared and equipped than ever before to deal with a wide range of emergencies. The tragic events of 9/11 where the dynamic response of fire service personnel was graphically demonstrated changed our world. It was obvious that the skills we required for a modern ­society and all the threats that might harbour, may be called upon at any time, without warning.

Global changes in weather have also had an impact on how we plan and ­prepare to protect local communities. People will be familiar with images of the fire service responding to severe flooding to protect individuals and property.

The other part of our business, and it’s fundamental to how we can help prevent serious incidents, is our community safety activities. Perhaps you’ve benefited from a free home fire safety visit with local firefighters. Your child may have been on one of our youth programmes.

You may work in the public or the voluntary sector and have helped promote our prevention messages and services. Links to health boards, police, social care, and councils are crucial in enabling us to achieve shared objectives of safer, stronger local communities. We’ve worked hard to support the most vulnerable in ­society, those who may be at increased risk of a fire in the home. We know the ­demographics of our country mean you are almost twice as likely to die in a house fire as in any other part of the UK. We need to work ­together to change that record.

It’s crucial that we don’t lose that local connection with the public and partners. Reform and the merging of eight fire and rescue services across Scotland into a national service will allow us to protect the frontline emergency services we ­currently deliver. Firefighters will continue their proactive role engaging with people to ensure they can be safer, particularly in their homes.

New dedicated Local Senior Officers will be tasked with working with local authorities and partners to reduce risk. Whilst we will be a national organisation, we’ll act locally and recognise that different parts of the country will have different needs. Only by understanding local needs can we deliver the type of services the public expect.

The financial challenges we face would have been there, irrespective of reform. I believe that as a single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service we’re better placed to ­address these challenges.

We will deliver on prevention, protection and emergency response. There will be a better, more equitable spread of ­specialist resources throughout the ­country, reducing primary fires and ­critically, fire casualties and fatalities. We’ll continue to respond to emergencies, locally and nationally, working, as we do best, with other emergency services and partners.

The public put their trust in us every day and the creation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will ensure we continue to deliver for them.

• Alasdair Hay is Chief Officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service