Scotland fire chiefs refuse radios, cite safety issues

By Calum Ross
The Aberdeen Press and Journal

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scottish Government officials were accused last night of threatening north-east fire chiefs in a row over the safety of two-way radios in officers private cars.

Mike Raeburn, convener of Grampian Joint Fire and Rescue Board, claimed Holyrood officials had put "political pressure" on senior staff to reverse a decision not to instal digital-link radios in their personal cars.

Grampian Fire and Rescue Service is the only brigade in Scotland not to have fitted the new radios in the cars of 24 of its senior officers.

They made the decision on the grounds that the equipment is not "hands-free".

Mr Raeburn, an Aberdeenshire councillor, claimed Scottish Government officials had warned that an inspection of the north-east service would be ordered unless the brigade's stance softened.

A government spokeswoman said last night it had been "simply seeking to understand the factors underpinning this decision".

The local branch secretary of the Fire Brigades Union questioned the "odd" stance of north-east managers.

Mr Raeburn said: "I am appalled and dismayed that our senior officers should have been put under such pressure and been threatened in such a manner by officials.

"As convener of the board, I have corporate responsibility for the safety of all Grampian Fire and Rescue staff.

"I have been put in the invidious position of having to give the chief fire officer an instruction that these radios are not to be answered by the driver of the vehicle whilst it's in motion.

"This is completely unprecedented in my experience and I do not take kindly to being put in this position."

The row is believed to have culminated yesterday morning in a phone call between Mr Raeburn and Ian Walford, head of Scottish Resilience, the government department in charge of fire brigades.

The Firelink system allows officers to communicate with the police and other agencies when called to emergencies.

The radios have been installed in 80 fire appliances and support cars at the north-east brigade, but not in the 24 private cars of its senior managers.

In a letter to government officials, Grampian's chief fire officer, David Dalziel, is believed to have outlined an "overwhelming safety case opposed to installation".

A government spokeswoman said: "The Firelink system will provide greater levels of safety and security to communities throughout Grampian and to the firefighters who serve them.

"Grampian Fire and Rescue Authority has chosen not to instal the system in their officers' cars.

"As this is different to the choice made by Scotland's other authorities, we are simply seeking to understand the factors underpinning this decision."

In response to claims that the brigade was threatened with an inspection if the decision was not reversed, the spokeswoman added: "One of the functions of the head of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Advisory Unit is to provide independent, professional advice to the Scottish Government, and ministers are currently considering whether to deploy this impartial expertise to appraise the situation."

The union's branch secretary, Alan Paterson, said: "The FBU do find it odd that Grampian wouldn't want to be consistent with the rest of the country and we would be interested to find out why they took that decision."

Copyright 2009 Aberdeen Journals Ltd
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