Fire chiefs defend service over high casualty figures

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FIRE chiefs today hit back at criticism of the high number of casualties in the Lothians and said it was only because they were so good at giving first aid.

A report by Audit Scotland for the Accounts Commission said it was concerned that the number of people killed or injured in fires in and around Edinburgh was the highest in Scotland per head of population.

It said Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service had failed to identify the underlying reason for the high level of casualties and had not been able to target preventative work accordingly.

The statistics show the casualty rate in Lothian at four per 10,000 of population, compared with the Scottish average of 2.6.

The Lothian service claimed the figures may have been affected by the way it counts casualties.

A spokeswoman said its policy was to give oxygen or first aid at the scene to anyone who had suffered slight smoke inhalation or shock. She said: “Under our incident recording system, these people would move up from being recorded as a non-casualty to a casualty.

“We have established that Lothian and Borders has a disproportionately high number of people being provided with first aid at the scene of incidents and this may be as a result of our policy in relation to proactively providing oxygen/first aid.”

The report said Lothian and Borders had the lowest costs per head of population in Scotland and said it provided “an effective service with a clear strategic vision supported by good risk management planning”. But it highlighted areas of concern, including high levels of sickness absence – an average of nine days per member of staff, above the national average of 7.4.

The report also said management and monitoring of equipment had to be improved.

The Lothian and Borders spokeswoman said a new policy on absence introduced in 2009-10 was starting to have a positive impact and the service was looking at additional ways to improve its performance.

She acknowledge the comments by Audit Scotland on management of equipment and said as the service moved to a single national one, the focus had shifted to a national equipment strategy.