Sparks fly in firework row

Whithorn Community Council is making a formal complaint against the fire service after the cancellation of its annual fireworks display.

The complaint relates to details of several official statements by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, published in the press and online, which community council members believe misrepresent them.

At the time the Fire and Rescue Scotland denied cancelling the community bonfire and fireworks display because, allegedly, firefighters in the town were not trained to handle fireworks. The event had previously been successfully run by the Fire and Rescue Service Dumfries and Galloway before the service was centralised in 2013.

The complaint relates to a statement published in the November 7 edition of The Galloway Gazette when a Fire and Rescue Scotland spokesperson said: “Claims the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service cancelled this event are entirely inaccurate. The community council applied to the local authority for a license to run a fireworks display and bonfire at Whithorn Fire Station without consulting the fire service and without putting measures in place to ensure it would be safely organised.”

But Julia Muir Watt, secretary of Whithorn Community Council, said: “This is completely and utterly inaccurate.

“The community council has never run the event, but does fund the public liability insurance, which it paid for at the request of the local volunteer firefighters. The Entertainment Licence was not applied for by the Community Council and never has been; we have never contacted the local authority for any licence.

“The service is always informed of the event and in this instance, failed to respond for weeks when the risk assessments were provided. It is simply cowardly of Fire and Rescue Scotland to try to put the blame on the local body.

“There has been no withdrawal of various statements by SFRS, which is what the Community Council is requesting, and we therefore wished to progress to a complaint to the Ombudsman for Public Services.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We have endeavoured, on a number of occasions, to find a way to address the issues. We have offered to meet with the community council members and that offer remains on the table as the best way in our view to resolve matters. In relation to statements made by the service we have always taken absolute care to ensure they reflect our understanding of events and are factually accurate.

“The best way to examine the full circumstances remains a private meeting which would allow for a full and frank discussion of events.”