The future of the fire stations in Foula and Skerries is hanging in the balance because of a shortfall in trained staff and an ongoing need for new recruits.
The stations have been temporarily taken out of service because many of their crews are unable to meet national standards in the use of breathing apparatus kits.
That has prompted a warning from a local fire board member they could be permanently axed if staffing levels don’t improve, following a recent appeal for new blood to ensure remote stations remain sustainable.
Firefighters in the islands have struggled to commit the time needed to do the five-day initial BA training in Invergordon which entitles them to use the high-tech equipment.
The shut-down follows a decision by fire chiefs based in Inverness that firefighters who “are not of BA competence” must be taken off-run until they have gained the necessary experience.
Fire chiefs hope the stations will be brought back on track after upgrades have been completed at the fire service’s Sumburgh unit later this year, which will allow initial BA training to be carried out there.
But Shetland member of the Highlands and Islands Fire Board Allison Duncan has reiterated his fears that the axe could fall permanently on the stations.
Currently only six personnel run the Foula unit, while nine firefighters operate the Skerries station.
Mr Duncan said: “It is worrying news. The district managers are working very hard with personnel from the islands to get BA training done, but they have been unsuccessful to date in Foula and Skerries.
“The personnel are unable to commit to the time required to complete the BA training. I’m fairly concerned about it, but what can you do if you don’t get the personnel and they don’t get the training up to the required standard?
“If they are not getting through the medical and the training is not up to standard there will be no alternative but to close these remote stations. It’s as simple as that.”
His comments come prior to a fire board meeting in Inverness tomorrow. He added that consultation would be carried out in Skerries and Foula to seek a way forward. But he stressed if no further progress was made it opened up the real possibility the affected stations may be permanently axed following the board’s next meeting at the end of August.
Mr Duncan argued he and fellow SIC member Alastair Cooper, who also represents the isles on the fire board, had done everything “in our powers” to encourage recruitment in rural areas.
“Alastair and myself have fought bloody hard for Shetland over the last five years,” he insisted.
The fire service’s group manager for Shetland, Duncan MacDougall, said the training problems should be resolved once the Sumburgh upgrades have been carried out.
But he admitted there was still a strong need for new volunteers in Foula and Skerries.
“This is something that has been ongoing for a while. The head of operations in Inverness made a decision that, as of 1st June, if firefighters were not of BA competence they would be taken off the run.
“On these two islands [Foula and Skerries] very few people have done a BA course. We are waiting for them to come forward and do the courses.
“Hopefully in the future they will be done in Sumburgh, but at the time they were asked they had to go to Invergordon. Firefighters will be able to go to Sumburgh for initial BA training once we get the unit upgraded.
“There is a need for more people coming forward because six is the very minimum number of people you can run a unit with. A unit with full staffing would be 12 personnel.”