26th May 2018
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Calls for ‘adequate fire cover’

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THREE chalets were destroyed in a fire at Leraback, Foula last week.

A call was made to the fire and rescue services at 5.19pm on Thursday after one of the chalets went on fire but the two retained fire fighters in the isle were considered too few to tackle the blaze. They were instructed not to attempt to fight it and a crew had to be taken in by the coastguard helicopter from Brae and Lerwick.

Despite attempts by local people to prevent the fire spreading the three terraced stone-built chalets, belonging to Bryan Taylor, were all destroyed.

The crews used two main jets to extinguish the blaze and the area was cleared by 9.10pm that night. A man was taken to hospital with burns and smoke inhalation and a dog died.

The incident has highlighted the need for more trained fire fighters in the isle and while several islanders have recently applied to the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue service, their applications have not been processed.

Community councillor Jim Gear was one of those who applied. That was over two years ago and since then he has only received an acknowledgement of his application, but no further correspondence.

Mr Gear said: “The fire brigade has done nothing about taking these people on and some of these people were previously volunteer firemen, so they already had fire training.

“There isn’t adequate fire cover at the moment on the island. The offshore team came and did what they could, but obviously a fire is something that needs to be dealt with very quickly and if you have got up to two hours delay for them to get here, there isn’t going to be much they can do.

“They need to actively pursue recruiting more people to the fire service here. But the great thing today is that no person has been seriously injured, though obviously this is very sad and I understand a dog did die.”

Another of those who applied was Mr Taylor, who said his application was sent in two years ago and he had only received verification six months ago.

He also believes two of the chalets could have been saved had the Foula fire crew been able to assist, as the fire was contained to one building for over an hour.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mr Taylor said. “The fire crew were devastated that we were told not to tackle the fire.”

The accusations have been refuted by the fire service, however, which stated it had been trying to recruit members over the past 14 months.

Highlands & Islands deputy firemaster Tony Woods said the issue in Foula was the low population and fitness requirements which made filling places challenging in a small community.

He said: “The problem we have got in Foula and other small communities is the demographics make it quite difficult to recruit fire fighters there.”

Mr Gear said that the community was “very annoyed” with the fire board and their attitude towards recruiting more fire fighters and that the community would “continue to put pressure on them”.

He said: “I believe we could have saved two of of the three chalets if the team had worked together. The national criteria for recruiting fire fighters obviously doesn’t apply to rural areas. They need to look at [employing] those that are fit and able.”

Foula resident Isobel Holbourn agreed. She said: “It’s pretty shocking. The community is very close and to have that happen to a neighbour is quite upsetting. There seems to be a lot of confusion that needs sorting out in case something like this happens again.”

On the fire board’s recruitment regulations Mrs Holbourn said: “One size doesn’t fit all when you’re dealing with small communities.”

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