Published: 10/01/2014 09:55 - Updated: 13/01/2014 11:45

Reassurance offered on flood rescue

Scottish Fire RescueMORAY’S specialist fire equipment is to remain in the area, allaying fears that it could be moved south under service reform.

Key assets will stay, it was confirmed this week, ensuring that local firefighters remain on the front line when it comes to swift water rescues.

Concerns had been voiced that Moray’s more specialised equipment – including one of the country’s very few high-water pumps – could go elsewhere under the move to a single fire service in Scotland.

However, Moray’s local senior officer for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), David Rout, said the status quo will remain. Mr Rout made the announcement as he launched a draft fire and rescue plan for the area which identifies priorities over the next three years.

“We are retaining the assets that currently exist within Elgin, and I am delighted to say that Swift Water Rescue will remain a specialist asset ready for deployment to anywhere in Scotland with our highly trained staff in Elgin. It is good for Elgin and it is good for Moray,” he said.

Chairman of the Moray Police and Fire and Rescue Services Committee, Councillor Douglas Ross, welcomed the news.

“I think there was always a fear that they might try to centralise a lot of these assets, so it is very good news that they are staying in this area,” he said.

“Clearly we hope, with the time and money spent on the flood schemes, that the call for them in Moray will be less and less, but it is good to have a national asset in the North where all our firefighters are specialised in using this equipment."

Local firefighters have recently been deployed for water rescues as far afield as Perthshire and Dumfries and Galloway. December’s tidal surges in Moray led to call-outs throughout the area, while flooding in Stonehaven saw teams deployed for both the emergency response and recovery phases.

It tops a busy time for the service, with local crews celebrating a record number of home fire safety visits compared to previous years, with 426 completed since April 1. “It is a huge accomplishment, and staff have to be applauded for that, as do the public,” Mr Rout said.

For the first time in Moray, a liaison officer will be embedded with the local authority to ensure that the fire service has a “seat at the table” on all issues. That role will be key as the service strives to meet priorities identified under the draft local fire and rescue plan.

Moray residents can have a say on the priorities they would like to see targeted by the service across the area. Mr Rout said the blueprint represented a “decisive shift” towards prevention and protection, with a blue-light response the result of a failure in the service.

Public safety and that of the area’s firefighters would always be at the “heart of the plan”, he added.

Local priorities include: a reduction in accidental house fires; a reduction in fire fatalities and casualties; a reduction in casualties from road accidents; and a reduction in call-outs due to false alarms from automatic fire alarm systems, with 541 false alarms responded to in 2012/13.

“We haven’t just plucked the priorities out of the air; it is all evidence-based, and the key outcome is that we want to prevent fires from occurring within Moray, protect the people within Moray, and provide a first-class response,” said Mr Rout.

Partnership working and information-sharing with professionals from a wide range of agencies – such as the police, Moray Council, health authority and the third sector – will enable the service to reach people who are most at risk.

Of the draft document, Mr Rout added: “I don’t see this as being the finished article. This is a draft plan and we need comments. We would like to hear from the public and our partners. It is not my plan; it is Moray’s plan.” Responses should be made by February 14, and will be considered before the final draft local plan is put forward for agreement.

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