BY MURRAY MACLEOD
Senior fire chiefs in the Highlands and Islands have given an assurance that there are no plans to consider a new programme of closures involving small stations in rural areas.
Fears have been expressed that the creation of the new single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service could threaten the future of many of the retained or part-time crews who cover the peripheral communities of the west coast and the islands, due to the competing demands of the more populated areas.
While a commitment was given this week that there was “no threat at all, at this point in time”, senior officers admit that they continue to face a challenge in the retention and recruitment of part-time firefighters.
A series of consultation papers were launched last week on local plans designed to identify area targets within the context of a national strategy.
Speaking to the Free Press, Scott Hay, area manager for Highland, said that recruitment and retention of firefighters was an issue across the country.
Asked about fears over the possibility of future station closures in his area, he said: “There is no intention at this point to close any station. The rural stations in the Highlands and Islands remain an important part of the service and they have an important part to play in the local plan and its implementation. There is no threat at all, at this point in time.”
Mr Hay said that it was a continual challenge to get enough people in the service to provide the desired coverage as it was necessary for individuals to prioritise their day job. He praised employers in the Highlands for allowing their staff to be retained firefighters.
The local plans are currently out for consultation and will form the basis of a co-operative approach with other agencies, such as local authorities, police and the NHS.
Mr Hay said that, for example, there would be more of a focus in the Highlands on the need to reduce road traffic accidents. “In the winter we have weather conditions which make driving that bit more difficult and in the summer we have a lot of tourist traffic,” he said.
Billy Wilson, Mr Hay’s counterpart covering Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, also gave an assurance that the “retained element will certainly remain” in the service.
However, he added: “We need to review what we are doing because we have a challenge in terms of recruitment and ensuring we have 24/7 coverage. We need to look at it further down the line, at what we can do in terms of attracting more people to the service.”
He added that the area plans were “a genuine attempt to recognise local context”.