highlandsfirerescueNearly 70 fire safety inspections for high risk bedsits in the Highlands had failed to be completed by the end of last year, a performance criticised by the region’s brigade as "below standard".

By law, the potential risks of properties like hospitals, hostels, care homes and hotels must be monitored but Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service has lagged behind in carrying out audits of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

The performance has been classed at "red" status in a report to be debated by councillors at the last ever Highland and Islands Fire Board meeting in Inverness, before it is abolished and the national fire service is created in April.

However, Antony Gardner, the fire service’s head of prevention and protection, insisted the picture is brighter after more HMO visits were completed since December.

He said 121 high risk HMO inspections had been done by the end of last month [Jan] and the latest figures would be presented verbally to councillors later this week but was confident the work would be completed by April.

It comes after a major fire at a Ross HMO saw 15 residents and staff evacuated a fortnight ago.

About 50 firefighters tackled the blaze at Dingwall’s Royal Hotel which saw the town centre streets sealed off. A 17-year-old teenage male was later arrested by police and a report sent to the procurator fiscal.

Mr Gardner said the service had inspected the building more than once last year and had agreed a course of action with the owner.

The fire service had been criticised last year for the number of audits it had carried out and Mr Gardner said it had stepped up its efforts through its 14 district officers scattered about the region.

"In previous years we would visit approximately 20 per cent of our high risk sleeping accommodation," he said.

He said officers had worked hard to carry out far more inspections but the delay in getting to HMOs was because they had deliberately targeted hostels and hotels, which are generally busier in the summer months.

"It is quite arduous, it can take a couple of hours to get there, two or three hours to do the audit and they may need to work through some things with the owner," said Mr Gardner, who added officers also visited smaller HMOs which are classed as medium to low risk.

At the same meeting, the fire board will also be asked to approve the recommended closure of two fire stations, in Knoydart and on the Isle of Eigg, because neither community response unit can recruit enough staff.

Both had been unable to respond to 999 calls since June 2012 and the communities will be served by Mallaig’s fire crew instead, if the move is agreed.

Concerns have also been expressed about the unit at Tongue, Sutherland, but the outlook appears brighter.

Four staff are currently based at the unit which is still operational but councillors will be warned it "remains a challenge" to ensure the fire engine is available to respond.

However, three potential crew members have recently applied to join and will attend the Scottish Fire Services College for a trainee course next month.

Posted 28/02/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com