Surge in deliberate fires and attacks on crews in West Lothian

Wednesday July 12th 2023

Midlothian View Fire Engine

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

A surge in deliberate fire setting and attacks on firefighters in West Lothian saw crews facing more than three incidents a day last year, it has emerged.

The last year has seen more than 1,100 deliberate blazes started in the county. Just over half of those fires were started in the Fauldhouse and Bathgate wards.

At many incidents, fire crews have been met with verbal abuse and attacks while attending blazes.

William Pollard, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service area commander for Falkirk and West Lothian told Councillors on the Community and Public Safety Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel:

“Operational crews have been dealing with verbal abuse and missiles been thrown when responding to calls. As a result, we have had to increase the level of attendance and request support from Police Scotland, whilst these measures support our crews it also ties up additional resources.

“We are aware that it is youths throwing missiles at appliances and verbal abuse of crews. Attacks on fire crews are taken very seriously, there is a thorough investigation both in terms of ensuring safety and welfare of crews and of working with partner agencies such as Police Scotland to identify.”

Mr Pollard said in his report to the PDSP:

“Deliberate fire setting is a significant problem for the SFRS and partners in West Lothian. In the main, deliberate fires are secondary fires categorised into either refuse, grassland or derelict buildings incidents. There is a close link between deliberate secondary fires and other forms of anti-social behaviour.”

It added: “The majority of the Quarter 4, 267 deliberate fires involved outdoor structures, wheelie bins, refuse and land contained within gardens and accounted for approx 148 (55%).

“The trend line now is now evidencing a spike upwards compared to Q3 2022/23. 138 (51%) of these incidents are within the Bathgate and Fauldhouse wards.”

Black Moss in Armadale has also seen problems. Of the 1,123 deliberate fires in 2022/23 in West Lothian 257 were in Bathgate, 150 in Fauldhouse and the Breich Valley ward, 148 in Armadale and Blackridge and and 147 in Whitburn and Blackburn

AC Pollard said in some cases extra staff attended incident sites where there had been prior trouble. The SFRS Community Action Teams have done extensive work with police and community groups in Fauldhouse and Bathgate, and have engaged with youths through school visits.

A series of community events which the fire service has taken part in have also contributed to a drop in incidents.

At a recent meeting of Bathgate’s Local area Committee Liaison officer for the fire service, Paul Harvey, said shopkeepers were advised to ensure refuse such as cardboard packing was stored safely to stop it being used for fire raising.

AC Pollard reinforced that message and asked the council to help with ensuring that publicly accessible areas were kept as clean as possible.

For the police, Chief Inspector Jocelyn O’Connor told the meeting that youths had been charged in relation to stoning incidents at fires and that community officers had worked with the SFRS in delivering safety messages through the high schools.

Mr Pollard said: “Although incidents are still occurring there has been a significant reduction to date.”

The SFRS has also been working with the Forestry Commission locally in the Fauldhouse Area as part of its summer prevention programme. There have been grassland and heath fires around the village in previous summers.

Councillor Lawrence Fitzpatrick asked if deliberate fires and attacks on fire crews was a Scotland wide issue. Mr Pollard said that anecdotally there were similar issues in other areas

Fauldhouse Councillor Craig Meek, chairing the PDSP said: “It’s good to see a reduction of some of the stats here and it is important to echo comments which have been made.

“Attacks on emergency service workers are just not acceptable at all. You guys are out there working to keep us safe. That’s not just fire and rescue, that’s Police Scotland and the ambulance service.

“All emergency service workers deserve to be at their work and as safe as possible.

“These mindless acts of violence, that’s what they are, are not acceptable. We need communities to rally round and support emergency service personnel and report these crimes being committed.”

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