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Fire fighters could attend medical emergencies

FIRE fighters in Shetland could be set to take on extra responsibilities including responding to medical emergencies in return for a pay rise.

Members of the community safety and resilience board were told at its latest meeting in Lerwick on Thursday that it is part of a nationwide move to diversify some fire fighters’ roles which could also see them focus on areas like environmental events and terrorism.

Fire fighters would re-train for these roles in return for a 20 per cent pay rise over a four year period.

The scheme could provide a boost to Shetland’s rural areas where people who suffer a cardiac arrest, for example, often have to wait a long time for an ambulance or medical help to arrive.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service area manager for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles Iain Macleod said the proposal reflects a change in demand on fire fighters.

“We’ve had a model in place within the fire and rescue service that has served the country well for 70 years, but we have to admit that the risks are changing,” he said.

“The emerging risks are terrorism, environmental in terms of flooding and extremes of weather, but also we recognise that the fire service has a wider role to play in terms of its responsibilities to the community.

“If we can support our colleagues in other agencies by delivering services such as out of hospital cardiac and potentially ongoing medical response, you can imagine that within a rural community such as Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles, coverage by ambulance and medical intervention is a very challenging environment.

“So if the fire and rescue service are closer and they’re appropriately trained, and then you can expect that actually in the future the fire service will be responders, supporting the community, making people safer and providing that emergency intervention.”

The role could be similar to first responders for the ambulance service, who attend medical emergencies in more rural areas while an ambulance is on its way.

Last year a year series of meetings were held across Shetland to encourage more people to become first volunteer responders.

Meanwhile, the community safety and resilience meeting also heard that an extra 15 people have applied to become retained fire fighters in the isles following recruitment campaigns.

Many stations in Shetland, such as Brae, Bixter and Fetlar, have struggled to meet its staffing complement in recent years.

But Macleod said the fire service still needs more bodies in its ranks.

“We need more people to come forward for their communities,” he said.