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Fire service shake-up emergency calls concern

By SPP Reporter

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Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service merges with Scotland's seven other fire services next year to become one unitary body.
Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service merges with Scotland's seven other fire services next year to become one unitary body.

CONCERN is growing over the way Highland 999 calls will be handled following the creation of a new Scotland-wide fire service next year.

North callers ringing to report an emergency are presently routed to Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service’s command centre, located at its Inverness headquarters.

But next April the North fire service merges with Scotland’s seven other fire and rescue services to become one body.

And it is feared that this will mean 999 calls emanating from the Highlands could be handled by a call centre located miles outwith the area – possibly in Aberdeen.

Tain councillor Jamie Stone, who is a member of Highlands and Islands Fire Board, is urging fellow councillors to put pressure on fire service managers to retain a command centre in the Highlands.

He made his fears known at a meeting of the Board held in Inverness on Friday. The meeting was attended by Alasdair Hay, formerly acting chief fire officer at Tayside and the man appointed to head up the new national service.

Councillor Stone said that even the best 999 operators in the world could make mistakes if they did not have the appropriate geographical knowledge. Even the pronunciation of place names was vital.

"Local knowledge is absolutely crucial and essential when you’re fielding these calls, it (the call centre) has to be based locally," he said.

"For example, in the Highlands there are two Tains, two Miltons and two Kilmuirs."

Chief Fire Officer Hay responded that calls would still be answered in Inverness after the change over on 1st April – but he stopped short of giving an assurance that the command centre would remain in the city indefinitely.

"There are eight fire services, each of which have their own command centre at the moment," he said.

"What we need to do is take a look at all the different models. It is not where a control room is placed, it is the people that are in that control room who are important."

Mr Hay went on to say that his priorities would be community and firefighter safety and the welfare of staff.

Under the new set up, the Highlands are expected to become part of a huge north "hub," including Grampian and Tayside.

An announcement as to where the headquarters of the hub will be located is imminent but Aberdeen is regarded as the most likely contender.

Various fire and rescue service departments are expected to be dispersed around the hub in a bid to avoid duplication and reduce costs.

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