The Fair Isle community is to get a new fire station after Shetland politicians won their battle to persuade the Highlands and Islands Fire Board to press ahead with construction.
Local firm Ness Engineering was awarded the Fair Isle contract late last year, before chief fire officer Trevor Johnson floated the idea of shelving the new station and cancelling the contract.
But at a board meeting in Inverness on Monday, SIC fire board representative Allison Duncan successfully persuaded colleagues to let building work commence on the £160,000 project.
There was also a suggestion that work on Whalsay’s new station should cease, but Mr Duncan and council colleague Alastair Cooper also secured agreement to complete its construction.
Mr Duncan, who had previously voiced his fears about the possible consequences if there was a serious fire in Fair Isle, described the decision as “a victory for common sense”.
“I’m absolutely delighted for both residents of Fair Isle and Whalsay,” he said. “They’re both very hard-working and industrious island people.”
The building in Fair Isle which currently stores its fire-fighting vehicle has no hot or cold running water, no toilet and no electricity. Communications are done through a volunteer’s house, and much equipment is kept in homes or sheds.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott congratulated the two councillors for their successful lobbying on behalf of the communities in question.
“This is an excellent investment in Fair Isle’s future,” he said. “It shows the benefit of sustained effort to deliver an important new and essential fire and rescue facility. Fire equipment has been kept all over Fair Isle but with a new purpose built station, the service will be all the more able to serve the island’s needs including the essential cover at the airstrip.”
Meanwhile, an independent investigation is to be carried out into the Highlands and Islands fire service. It follows strong criticism from the Accounts Commission relating to its management and the level of training for crews, dating back nearly a decade.
Mr Duncan said attention should now turn to ensuring there are enough fully trained fire-fighters to safeguard as many rural stations in Shetland as possible. All fire and rescue services throughout the Highlands and Islands are to be looked at individually before the regional board is absorbed into a single new national board.