Multi-agency Fair Isle fire debrief planned

The ruins of the bird observatory in Fair Isle after the fire. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A MULTI-agency debrief is set to be held in mid-May to discuss the Fair Isle Bird Observatory fire and focus on any lessons which can be learned from the incident.

The session is expected to include agencies like the fire service, police, the coastguard and the RNLI, as well as Shetland Islands Council and inter-island flight operator Airtask.


The world-renowned building burnt down in March and firefighters from the Shetland mainland were transported by coastguard helicopter and lifeboat to support the local crew on the remote island.

The blaze, which started in the roof area, spread so quickly that there was little firefighters could do to stop the building being destroyed. No injuries were sustained in the fire.

The replacement fire engine at the Fair Isle station.

Fair Isle’s fire engine also developed a mechanical fault and was out of action after the incident, with a replacement four-wheel drive appliance only getting shipped in a few weeks later.


The trust which runs the observatory wants to see the building rebuilt with insurance money and plans are progressing on this front.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Shetland group manager Matt Mason said the multi-agency debrief will include all those who participated in the incident and will “talk through the learnings” gained from the response to the fire.

“Once we have our debrief we’ll be able to understand a really full picture,” he continued.

“Of course, from any incident, you identify the things that went really, really well, and those that maybe need some improvement.

“That’s the same for any incident – and certainly one as dynamic and large scale as the observatory fire, there’s always going to be things that we learn from those types of incidents. We’ll be better informed after our debrief.”


Mason said there was adequate fire cover in place from when the old Fair Isle appliance was taken out of action to the new one arriving.

“We had to put some interim support in there. Given the remote nature of Fair Isle, that’s never going to be an easy logistical task for us,” he said.

“We don’t have the luxury of having complete resilience – we don’t have a spare fire engine that we can dust off in Fair Isle, that’s unrealistic. So we had some interim measures – they were appropriate, so they met the minimum criteria for the airfield, and we met the needs of the community.”

The fire service then experienced some inclement weather which delayed the new appliance arriving on a council ferry.

“On a few occasions the ferry was unable to sail, but on the first possible opportunity we were able to get the ferry,” Mason said.

“We have been supported by Shetland Islands Council to get the vehicle there. It’s always going to be a logistical challenge supporting Fair Isle like that, but I thought it was really well coordinated. They were always ready, but we had to match tide times and weather.”