Fire Minister visits Fire Investigation Unit in Aberdeen

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Fire investigation units set up by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service are keeping communities in the north of Scotland safer than ever before.

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A dedicated unit, previously only available in the former Grampian area, is now available across the whole north service delivery area, which includes Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland, Western Isles, Shetland  and Orkney Islands, Perth and Kinross, Angus and Dundee.

Today, Tuesday, January 28th, Fire Minister Roseanna Cunningham, visited the north service delivery area’s fire investigation unit in Aberdeen to hear about the increased level of service being delivered to communities.

Following the creation of a single fire and rescue service on April 1st last year, a commitment was made to ensure all communities across Scotland would have equal access to specialist resources and expertise no matter where people live.

Part of that commitment saw the Service create three specialist Fire Investigation Units, with a team based in Aberdeen in the north, Edinburgh in the east and Glasgow in the west. These teams are available to provide a 24/7 fire investigation service to determine the most probable cause of fire.

The Minister was joined by Assistant Chief Officer Robert Scott, Director of Service Delivery in the North, Group Manager Douglas Boyd, Fire Investigation Manager and members of the Fire Investigation Team for a tour of the specialist facilities and equipment which include thermal imaging cameras, electric multi-meters to check electrical resistance, specialist suits and hand tools used during excavations at fire scenes.

Since April 1st last year, fire investigators have been deployed over a hundred times to a number of locations in the north of Scotland.  Within days of being formed, the team were deployed to Orkney to deal with an investigation into a fire at a children’s care home at the end of April last year.  They were on scene within hours and worked closely with colleagues from Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority Forensic Services.

Fire investigators also attended a fatal house fire in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire in September last year and provided support following a fire at a block of flats in Crieff, Perth and Kinross in November 2013.

The team were again outside the Scottish mainland later on that month when they visited Lerwick, Shetland following a house fire and in January this year they  were in Wick, Caithness to investigate a fire at a 15th century castle which is used as a hotel.

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service SFRS at today’s visit was Assistant Chief Officer and Director of Service Delivery in the North, Robert Scott, and he commented: “Outcomes of fire investigations are used to inform and drive current and future SFRS engagement and enforcement strategies and procedures to maintain firefighter safety.

“The teams work exclusively on fire investigation. Their role allows them to build a comprehensive knowledge base, identify issues and common themes and use this information in order to improve community and firefighter safety.

“The dedicated fire investigation team are part of a considerable increase of services available in the north of Scotland, giving communities access to specialist resources.  The work the team carry out makes a significant contribution to the safety and wellbeing of communities across the north, regardless of their location.”

The support provided by this specialist team ranges from verbal support and advice for operational crews to attendance at incidents that are deemed to be of special interest or where the complexity of the incident requires their expertise.

There are different levels of fire investigation and SFRS has a core of competent officers based locally and at stations across the north who will investigate, for example, chip pan fires and rubbish fires.  However, this level of fire investigation may be supplemented by the specialist fire investigation unit by way of consultation and/or attendance if requested.

Group Manager Douglas Boyd, Fire Investigation Manager explained: “Fire Investigation Officers work closely with partner agencies, including local authorities, health and Police Scotland.

“They will attend incidents when requested by Police colleagues where officers have identified that the incident they are dealing with is a potential crime scene.

“These incidents normally have more complex fire scenes and the investigation will be more time consuming during the scene examination phase. A report will be prepared by the Fire Investigation Officers and sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and can be used in evidence in criminal cases and fatal accident inquiries.”

Collaborative working with multi-agency partners is key to ensure the most effective and thorough investigation possible, with key information sharing and joint expertise at the forefront of this partnership.

Mr Boyd added: “Fire investigators involvement with partner agencies is crucial in terms of fully establishing the cause of fires. This is a vital aspect of efforts to raise fire safety and lower the number of incidents, casualties and fatalities as well as improving firefighter safety.”

The team in Aberdeen cover the largest geographical area in Scotland, from Perth up to the Orkney and Shetland Islands and over to the Western Isles, but with the removal of boundaries, the teams can be called to assist wherever they are required across Scotland.

Fire Minister Roseanna Cunningham said:  “This Fire Investigation Unit undoubtedly provides an excellent service to best serve the unique demands of the north of Scotland and I am delighted that it will now also benefit regions outwith the Grampian footprint.

“By providing specialist services on a full-time basis, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service are ensuring community safety is at the forefront of all they do.

“Today’s visit also highlights the huge range of diverse work that the fire service does on a daily basis and the vital role they play in not only thoroughly investigating crime but also using their knowledge to prevent further fires.

“Fires in Scotland have fallen to their lowest levels since records began however every incident is one too many and I know the hugely positive impact this unit will have on fire safety across the country.”

Our photo shows Fire Minister Roseanna Cunningham with Watch Manager Darron Lahey - investigator for over 16 years.