CREW CRISIS: Isle of Skye fire cover under threat due to lack of new recruits

Crews at a wildfire in Skye. Pic Willie Urquhart

A new model for firefighting on Skye has been mooted amid a recruitment crisis and revelations that on one day last month the island had almost no fire cover.

The concerns were voiced last week at a meeting of Highland Council’s Skye and Raasay committee which had before it the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s quarterly performance report.

It showed that Uig had only 41 per cent station availability during April to June while Dunvegan had under 36 per cent. Staffin had no availability at all.

Portree Fire Station is now down to just five crew members.

Local fire fighters showed their importance earlier this year, when a huge wildfire spread near Kyle of Lochalsh. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Councillor Drew Millar said: “From speaking to people locally I find it quite alarming the number of times that stations are off the run.

“Information that I got sent to me anonymously said that on the 28th of July there were no crews available on Skye at all and even on parts of the west coast. The only one that was on-crew was Raasay which doesn’t give us much confidence given that they have to catch a ferry to get across.

“My understanding is that one of the big problems with recruitment is that employers have to give people too much time off to do the training that’s deemed necessary for the fire service compared to previous years.

“I just wonder is it time to look at a completely new model. Is it time that the fire service could look at appointing a full-time station covering Skye and Wester Ross and maybe use the base at Broadford airport if flights were to resume.

“It would create some employment on Skye because the fire service would be deemed to be a worthwhile career for many young men and women. 

“I think the vast majority of the community are becoming aware of the problems faced by the fire service and it does just need one serious incident and all of a sudden there would be an uproar.” 

SFRS group commander Mike Collier told Councillor Millar: “You’re quite correct in your assumption that should there be a serious incident will we have a response. I have been very open and honest about that and we have been incredibly fortunate that that has not actually happened.”

Mr Collier said that on 28th July, Broadford and Portree did have some availability.

But he said: “That’s what you will see, we will have very sporadic moments where the pumps are on and off across different locations in the area.”

The group commander said Skye was “very much a focus” for the service and revealed he had been involved in discussions with the deputy chief officer regarding a tripartite arrangement for Skye with fire, police and ambulance.

“That model you talk about is at the forefront of my conversations,” he said. “The retained model we have doesn’t necessarily work today. It does need to change, but there’s a cost implication around that.”

Mr Collier said the fire service was currently seeking Scottish Government funding to assess the viability of introducing a tripartite system, with all three services based in the one building, possibly Portree. 

The meeting heard there were 10 new recruits currently going through the application process, with two due to start initial training next month and others in November.

Mr Collier said locally-based training was something he was pressing for, rather than firefighters having to travel to Invergordon or Inverness.  

Article by Jackie MacKenzie