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Outer isles left relying on smoke detectors

Foula fire station

THE RETAINED fire stations on the remote Shetland islands of Foula and Out Skerries will be closed, leaving them depending on fire fighters being flown in on helicopters.

Highlands and Islands Fire Board made the decision to close the two stations along with those on the Orkney isle of Flotta and Boat of Garten, near Aviemore, in Inverness on Friday.

The fire board has been searching to find £4 million in savings, but the reason the two island station were suspended and now closed was because they failed to maintain enough fully trained volunteer personnel to meet the standards of a modern fire service.

The board heard the station at Foula has cost £100,000 to maintain for the past five years, during which it has been unable to respond to all six call outs it has received.

Since 2007 the Skerries station has been more expensive at £222,000, but the only emergencies it has been called out to have been a grass fire and a flooded boat. Board members were told it cost £200,000 per station to bring them up to scratch.

Alastair Cooper

Shetland Islands Council representative Alastair Cooper asked the board to give both stations time to find and train more personnel.

However he failed to find a seconder even in fellow Shetland ouncillor Allison Duncan, who said that reductions in public services were “regrettable but sometimes inevitable”.

Allison 'Flea' Duncan

Duncan promised the council would work with the fire services to step up the level of education and materials to prevent fires from starting and to protect people if they did.

The board has promised to deliver box loads of smoke detectors, fire-proof blankets and other material to make people safe.

But Cooper said he was concerned about the island communities receiving adequate services.

“I think they should have been offered training and shown they could provide the necessary level and quality of service by November,” he said.

Deputy chief fire officer Stewart Edgar said Friday’s decision was inevitable after they had had tried hard to engage with the affected communities.

“We are fairly confident we can reduce the risk to those communities by doing prevention and protection,” he said.

“In support of that we also have a remote island isolating mobilising procedure where we will respond with crews from mainland via helicopter, via ferry, via launch or RNLI to make sure we can continue to serve these local communities.”

Four years ago three chalets on Foula burned down to the ground after islanders were told not to help the two retained fire fighters tackle the blaze.

It took a seven strong crew two hours to reach the island from Shetland’s mainland, by which time all that was left were the stone walls.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021