The personnel department at Highlands and Islands Fire Service has been dragging its heels when it comes to recruiting new firefighters in rural areas, according to one of the Shetland members of the region’s fire board.
Allison Duncan says recruitment delays have caused frustration in isolated areas where a shortfall in trained staff have thrown into doubt the sustainability of some stations. He cited the case of one potential recruit in Foula who has waited two years for a response after submitting an application.
Mr Duncan’s comments came after depute chief fire officer Mike Holme attended a meeting in Foula, as part of a drive to consult with communities in the hope rural stations can remain sustainable.
Currently there are only six per-sonnel based in the isle. That figure needs to rise by at least one if the station, last month taken temporarily out of service, is to be saved.
Many firefighters are unable to commit the time needed to carry out nationally-recognised training in the use of breathing apparatus sets in Invergordon.
Mr Duncan said: “One of the major issues that emerged, and full credit for Mr Holme for taking this onboard, was that there has been a fault in the personnel department of the Highlands and Islands Fire Service. The procedure has fallen down substantially and in some parts it has been an absolute shambles.
“The personnel side has had a serious flaw, and the deputy fire officer made it clear that was the case. Because some of the people who have put their names forward to join the service, but there have been considerable delays in getting responses and, in some cases, no response at all.”
Mr Duncan said the Foula station could potentially enjoy an eight-strong team within a short time-frame, and that members of new families to the isle could be willing to also sign up in the future. But he warned there was still no guarantee yet that Foula, together with the small unit in Skerries, could be saved from the axe permanently.
He said: “We were just carrying out the process that was agreed at the [recent] board meeting in Inverness, whereby senior officers, in consultation with fireboard members, have been visiting individual stations. They were given no promises as to whether the Foula station will continue or discontinue.”
Mr Holme admitted that there had been recruitment problems but he insisted personnel still needed to complete their BA training to help their unit remain sustainable.
He said much of the recruitment problems stemmed from a reliance on third parties, such as doctors, providing the service’s occupational health department with sufficient information on each candidate.
He said: “Whilst I am fully aware of the problems our recruitment process has caused, I would absolutely contest that it is the main reason for the sustainability issue at Foula. The main reason for the sustainability issue at Foula is, understandably, the mixed demands on such a small community.”