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Skerries folk setting up fire service

A REMOTE island community in Shetland is drawing up plans to start its own independent fire service after its retained station was closed by Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS).

Since Wednesday the islands of Out Skerries and Foula have to rely on smoke detectors to make people feel safe, as it would take two hours for fire fighters to be flown in by helicopter.

Former watch manager of the Skerries fire service, Alice Arthur, said this week the community had no choice but to protect itself.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the move was the clearest sign yet of how national services were abandoning people in remoter communities.

Mrs Arthur said the community felt hurt by the way they had been treated by the Inverness based HIFRS.

She disputed that the station had been closed because it failed to maintain enough fully trained volunteer personnel and said it all had been a cost saving and centralisation move.

She added: “Having no fire service here hopefully is only going to be temporary as we are trying to set up a private one with the same crew.

“This might be even better than being involved with the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service who, I feel, have let us down tremendously.

“We are at the early stages. HIFRS is giving us the building and the truck and all the equipment we need, as we also need to continue to meet the plane every time it lands.

“That has now been organised, but to cover the rest of the islands we need to secure insurance cover, and funding.”

Mrs Scott said it was time for Shetland to control and shape its own fire and rescue service.

“Tragically we are turning back the clock to the 1800s. Instead of maintaining the professional training and expertise of local fire fighters backed by the national organisation, we are now depending on people attempting to save either a building or a life because it is their community and they would just do that.

“That is potentially dangerous for the individuals concerned but it is also an enormous step backwards in terms of the support that the outer islands should expect in the 21st century.

“If national services turn their back on areas such as Shetland, it appears to be time that Shetland turns its back on Scotland.

“Maybe we should withhold some of our taxes so that we can construct the fire and rescue service that we want for our islands so that its citizens are as safe as they can be.”

A spokesman for HIFRS said on Friday the organisation had no knowledge of the plans by the Skerries community and could not comment.

HIFRS decided to close the stations in Skerries, Foula and Flotta, in Orkney, at the end of August, after Shetland board member Alastair Cooper failed to find a seconder for his motion to give islanders extra time to find and train more personnel.

At the time deputy chief fire officer Stewart Edgar said he was confident that risks of fire could be reduced by prevention and protection.

He added: “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.”