AN army of volunteers who own boats and 4x4s are offering to mobilise to protect and support their communities – in a unique partnership with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
Members of rural communities who have access to private vehicles that can be used to cross water or negotiate rough and rural terrain have signed up to a Community Asset Register (CAR).
They also have a range of specialist skills such as mountain rescue.
And those volunteers can now be quickly identified through CAR which is operated and activated by Operations Control at times of significant emergency to enhance a full SFRS response.
The register will also be available to SFRS’ emergency service and local authority partners.
A rallying call has now been issued to others who live in rural and isolated areas, have specialist skills and who own their own transport - such as all-terrain vehicles - to follow in their footsteps.
People with buildings that can offer a temporary base to emergency personnel or warmth and shelter to displaced members of the community are also welcomed.
Bruce Farquharson is the Area Manager who has led this project.
He said: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service exists to save lives and will always respond to every emergency with the right resources, in the right place - at the right time.
“But we always look for new and innovative, dynamic but nonetheless appropriate partnerships wherever possible to absolutely ensure the safety of our communities.
“The Community Asset Register is yet another example of this spirit, calling upon those with specialist skills, vehicles and equipment to work alongside ourselves to keep people safe – because sometimes minutes can be not only precious but vital.
“The ideal person is someone who is experienced and knowledgeable in their field and handling their equipment. We are talking about, for example, white water rafters, mountaineers and 4x4 enthusiasts but there are other possibilities.
“These are everyday volunteers with a very keen community spirit – people who might also have access to useable buildings which can cater for large numbers of emergency personnel or displaced people in need of temporary warmth and shelter.
“We encourage anyone with these qualities who wish to give something back to their community to come forwards.
“Those who have already signed up are an absolute credit to their communities and we absolutely commend their contribution.
“We are now seeking others to follow their example and sign up to this potentially life saving register.”
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is the largest within the UK and covers more than 80,000 km2 of land, including some of the UK’s most rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands, Argyle and Bute and Dumfries and Galloway.
“We have seen recently in Ballater and Newton Stewart how severe weather-related flooding can hit very quickly - and with devastating effects,” AM Farquharson continued.
“In the event that there is widespread flooding, the register can be called upon to mobilise volunteers who can open community halls, support rescuers and those rescued by handing out refreshments, supply sandbags - even bring their own boat or vehicle which can be used to help move people safety.
“In this way communities are taking greater responsibility, giving something back and bringing our emergency services closer to the communities that they protect.”
Potential applicants go through a rigorous registration process before being added to the live register – including checks that they are appropriately qualified to operate their asset and an inspection of their equipment to ensure it is safe to use.
Volunteers would not be obligated to attend an incident, and a full and appropriate SFRS response would be mobilised regardless of whether a volunteer is able to attend.
AM Farquharson continued: “The SFRS will provide our firefighters with right training, equipment and knowledge to respond to an emergency incident.
“But the country faces changing risks and new challenges, covering vast areas land with extremely diverse geographies.
“Scotland’s communities have their own part to play, utilising the skills and equipment available to them, to help ensure that we are all as resilient as possible when facing these risks.
“You can do your part by becoming a retained firefighter in their local station, or volunteering for the community asset register.”
Volunteers who wish to offer their support should register an interest with SFRS.CommunityAssetRegister@firescotland.gov.uk.
Highland business owner steps up
A HIGHLAND business owner has already pledged to step up to support his community.
David Fox-Pitt, owner of outdoor adventure company Wildfox Events, owns an impressive arsenal of equipment.
It includes off-road vehicles - such as a Unimog, a motor boat, large event marquees, generators and outdoor lighting.
And all of this can be used to aid the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and emergency service – thanks to the Community Asset Register (CAR).
David, 52, said: “Supporting my local community has always been something that was important to me.
“This idea of community resilience in the midst of emergency situations was something which I was very keen to discuss when I was chairman of the local community council.
“As a business owner, we are kept busy, especially in the summer months when we do have several, large scale annual events such as the Glencoe Marathon.
“However it is clear to us that the equipment which we have at our disposal has the potential to do a lot of good in helping our emergency services.”
Wildfox Events’ HQ and David’s home, where he lives with his wife Jo, two daughters and a son as well two dogs, is located on the rural shores of Loch Tay.
David is a motivational mentor and runs leadership courses as well as bespoke adventure training and the company specialises in 4x4, multi-day experiences and is a well-respected organiser of some of the most challenging outdoor sporting events, including at Glencoe.
Thanks to this, and his years of experience from hiking and travelling across the world, David has a keen appreciation for the power of the weather.
And he highlights severe flooding as an example of the type of incident where he could possibly assist the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and emergency partners.
He continued: “The Unimog has a very high ground clearance and can wade through deep water; we also have a motorised boat.
“Being an outdoor event company which can cater to thousands of people at a time, we also have large outdoor marquees, flatbed trailers and Land Rovers.
“We have a lot to offer to the community asset register - and we’re delighted to be a part of it.”
David is just one of dozens of volunteers who have expressed their interest in CAR, which was launched across Scotland this week.