Politicians and the head of the Scottish fire service have defended the decision to close Inverness fire control room, which will be replaced by Dundee as the emergency dispatch centre for Shetland and other areas.
Critics of the plan say that a wealth of experience gained in Inverness will be lost once control of operations switches to Dundee and that rural and island communities, including Shetland, will suffer as a result.
The controversial decision was made on Thursday when the fire board decided to reduce the present number of eight control rooms inherited from the legacy brigades which merged to form a national organisation in April of last year. The implementation of these plans is expected to take three to five years and there “will be no compulsory redundancies involved”.
SFRS chief officer Alasdair Hay insisted that the move to three control rooms meant an effective and efficient control room infrastructure.
He said: “What it will do is it will improve the capacity and resilience of our control rooms and with that improvement it will ensure not only the safety of the communities in Scotland but also the safety of our firefighters and that is always at the heart of all the decisions we make.
He said that a centralised control room was already a “tested model” with Johnstone in Renfrewshire serving 12 local authorities that ranged from the very remote and rural areas in Argyll and Bute and 29 inhabited island communities through to some of the country’s largest conurbations in Glasgow and Ayrshire.
“We know this model is absolutely safe and does work and will deliver effective command and control services,” he added.
He said the move was part of a wider strategy aimed at removing duplication and improving frontline services and freeing resources to invest into community safety and improve access to specialist resources. “It is important to view this decision as part of a wider picture.”
According to the board, Johnstone Control, the largest in Scotland, currently handles more than 50 per cent of all fire calls in Scotland. It already covers over half of rural and urban Scotland including the islands and Gaelic speaking communities with “the same level of service”.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that the Scottish Ambulance Service had reduced its control rooms from eight to three in 2004. Since then, its response time for serious calls had improved from 8.6 to 6.5 minutes despite a 20 per cent rise in demand.
“To protect our communities and save lives it’s vital that our emergency services have the sophisticated systems, expertise and equipment to ensure every community across Scotland receives the highest quality of service as quickly as possible – but we have every sympathy with all of the staff affected by these changes,” he added.
However vice-chairman of Shetland community safety board Allison Duncan said that he was “absolutely, bitterly disappointed” by the fire board’s decision.
He added: “One of the reasons is that in Inverness they had become accustomed to the local dialect and place names.” He pointed out examples such as Vilzie in Fetlar that were pronounced unlike they were said and different places with the same name like Hamnavoe which could be in Orkney, Burra, Yell or Eshaness.
“I hope this does not cause concern in Dundee. If they get the name wrong and someone loses their life over it, God forbid,” he added.
● Inverness police HQ has become the new national control centre for Scotland where it will act as a centre point of expertise for Police national computer and criminal history checks across the country.
The expanded centre will become the hub for major incidents and events, creating 47 new jobs.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Policing in Inverness and the Highlands is performing excellently under Police Scotland, and the area has seen many benefits and access to national resources such as major investigation teams, the domestic abuse task force, air support, a dog unit and the national trunk roads patrol.
“The latest figures show that crime is at an almost 40 year low in Scotland and is continuing to fall in Inverness under Police Scotland. There will be new jobs created as the police national control centre becomes a hub for national expertise and there will also be 20-25 fire service posts.”