AT LEAST four new rural fire stations in Shetland are at risk under a major review of the entire fire service provided in the highlands and islands.
On Friday the region’s fire board will be asked to abort or defer building projects for new fire stations on the isles of Whalsay, Bressay, Fair Isle and in the village of Walls.
If approved, these projects will save the board £375,000, almost half of the savings it hopes to achieve on its £3.4 million capital budget for this financial year.
Chief fire officer Trevor Johnson has warned that small fire stations where it is hard to recruit and maintain fully trained crews may have to close following the review
He said the current programme to invest huge sums in buildings and equipment after upgrading volunteers to become paid retained firefighters is unsustainable in the current financial climate.
He adds that there are serious shortcomings in training provision for existing fire fighters, especially in small communities where few emergency calls are made and it has proved hard to recruit.
Mr Johnson wants the board to let him redirect funds towards a more thorough training programme for firefighters in the more active stations.
He warns that small fire stations are likely to close where it proves difficult to achieve and maintain “appropriate levels of operational competence”.
The review should be completed by June, but meanwhile Mr Johnson is seeking the board’s approval to stop or delay the four building projects in Shetland until then.
This would mean ceasing work on the new Whalsay fire station once it has been made wind and watertight, and reviewing the future use of the building. The board has already spent £200,000 of the £260,000 contract.
On Bressay, Mr Johnson wants to abort the £70,000 project to upgrade the privately-owned agricultural building currently being used by the local fire crew. Though £10,000 has already been spent, he says this project is no longer an option.
On Fair Isle a contractor has already been appointed to build a £160,000 fire station. Negotiations with the contractor should commence to defer the project until the outcome of the review in June, the fire chief says.
He also wants to wait before proceeding with land purchase for a £120,000 station in Walls, even though the plans area already with the local council.
Meanwhile the board has received offers to buy the redundant fire station on Whalsay and Sandwick.
Mr Johnson says in his report to Friday’s board meeting: “The current structure of the service is not sustainable, either in the context of firefighter and community safety or on best value grounds.”
Building projects are also being reassessed on Orkney at St Margarets Hope and North Ronaldsay, on Skye at Uig, and on the Scottish mainland at John O’Groats and Bonar Bridge.
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