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Local fire service under threat

A SHETLAND councillor is urging the new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to recognise the islands’ vulnerability when the eight regional services merge into one, in April this year.

Alastair Cooper’s call came in reaction to a critical inspection report into the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS), published this week.

The report urges further station closures.

In it, chief inspector of fire and rescue authorities Steven Torrie recognised that HIFRS was trying “to provide an extensive network of fire stations across a large geographical area with insufficient supporting resources”.

Councillor Cooper, a member of the HIFRS board, said Shetland, with its small and outlying island communities, posed particular challenges in operating an effective fire service.

Last year, the two stations in Skerries and Foula were closed, and the small station on the island of Fetlar is currently “off the run” because of a lack of trained fire fighters.

Other retained fire stations across Shetland regularly have difficulty summoning enough fire fighters if a call comes in the middle of the working day.

“It affects response times and actually the ability to save lives,” said Cooper, adding: “We have a dispersed community, we have two airfields, we have Sullom Voe Terminal, we have a gas plant being built – all these developments have risks attached to them.

“We need to be sure that we have the capability to respond to emergencies should they ever arise. I want to see a fire service in Shetland that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of our community.”

He added that there had also been a number of positive developments in Shetland over the last two years, including new fire stations and the new fire fighters training unit at Sumburgh airport.

This facility enables local retained fire fighters to update their training without have to travel to Invergordon, saving valuable time as well as cost.

He said he hoped the improved facilities would encourage more local people to sign up to serve their communities as retained fire fighters.

The chief inspector said the number of stations across the area would need to be further reduced with the remaining stations receiving improved support.

“There should be no doubt that there is a lot of challenging work facing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in the Highlands and Islands when the single service goes live at the beginning of April,” Torrie said.

“As well as ensuring that sufficient support remains available, the new service will need to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment to make sure its resources are well matched to community risk across Scotland.

“Despite the impressive progress which has been made, there is no guarantee of sustainability or stability at this point.”

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