Bressay without fire crew because of beards

Folk in Bressay are without a fire crew because two firemen have refused to shave off their beards in the lead up to its Up-Helly-A’ celebrations.

Allison Duncan vice-chairman of the Shetland community safety forum branded the decision as “crazy”.

He said four crewmen need to be clean-shaven in order to go out on operations. This, said Mr Duncan was for health and safety reasons – so breathing apparatus could be worn correctly.

“Crazy” situation: Allison Duncan

Mr Duncan said he had “spent hours” trying to broker a deal with the unnamed firemen, but to no avail.

The island, which has about 360 residents, has, with the exception of one week, been without a crew since November.

He said unless the men shave off their beards there would be no local provision until March, or possibly later.

“I have to say that senior management [at the fire service] have tried to make compromises with the fire fighters but without success. I can assure you they have gone the golden mile plus,” he said.

“It’s absolutely crazy that two firefighters can go down this route and hold the fire service to account. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog and as soon as this is resolved, the better.”

Mr Duncan added there were elderly folk on the island and was worried an accident could happen at any time.

“They are putting one night’s pleasure in Bressay before their duties,” he said and Lerwick fire crews had been covering in their absence.

Disciplinary action has now been commenced against both firemen, said Mr Duncan.

A statement from The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said it will provide cover in Bressay for Up-Helly-A’.

“The service understands the importance of local events to its residents and the fact that a number of SFRS staff will want to be involved.

“In many remote areas, such as Bressay, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service acknowledges the important role played by its retained firefighters and its responsibility to help balance crews’ home, family and social lives with that of their day job and commitment to their fire and rescue role.

“In the run up to Bressay’s Up-Helly-A’ event, fire cover will be provided by crews in Lerwick, as SFRS understands it has a duty to protect communities at all times.

“Prevention and protection staff have, over the past week, been undertaking leaflet drops and promoting home fire safety visits to reduce the risk within homes on the island.”

Local senior officer for the Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles, Billy Wilson said: “Prevention of fire is key in terms of being safe within the home, but householders should also make plans and familiarise themselves with what to do in the highly unlikely event of a fire occurring.

“The emergency response to Bressay during the period will be provided by retained firefighters from Lerwick Fire Station, using well-rehearsed procedures developed jointly with our community planning partners.”

He added: “Our retained staff do an excellent job and we recognise that the history and culture of a community will influence when members of a station may require time away from the service. It is crucial as a service that we balance that with the wider issue of public safety and for that reason we have developed contingency plans.”

Bressay resident and SIC councillor Jonathan Wills, said the situation seemed “a bit bureaucratic” and there was both a ridiculous side and a serious side to the matter.

“It’s no laughing matter”: Jonathan Wills

“It just seems silly it has arisen,” he said.

Dr Wills said the community wanted to have a fire engine in Bressay in order to respond to an emergency immediately.

But with a Lerwick crew responding it could take an extra half an hour.

The island was lucky to have fire volunteers, said Dr Wills and there should be a bit of “coming and going and a bit of compromise.”

He was not aware of the Lerwick crew being called out to the island.

“It’s no laughing matter and I just hope it can be sorted as quickly as possible,” he said.


Add Your Comment
  • Stewart Mac

    • January 24th, 2014 13:42

    Yes I can understand the need for firefighters to be able to use BA equipment safely but this is only 2 of a crew of 4 who have the beards. As far as I am aware (please correct me someone from SFRS) it is against their Health & Safety policy for a full 4 person crew to enter a fire using BA equipment without having another firefighter on the outside dealing with their safety/admin whilst using BA Sets. So in reality this affects at most 1 operational firefighter at any one time?

    Secondly, aren’t the Bressay Crew retained? i.e. NOT full time firefighters but volunteers prepared to put their lives at risk for the safety of others? bureaucracy and Health & Safety gone mad I think.

    I would recommend that everyone check out the HSE’s “Mythbusters” section every now and then – Puts paid to some H&S arguments brought by over zealous officialdome every now and then. Interesting & enlightening reading for all

    • Robert Duncan

      • January 25th, 2014 18:59

      If it’s the case that the breathing mask simply cannot seal due to the extent of their facial hair, it’s a genuine issue rather than petty bureaucracy.

  • Joe Johnson

    • January 24th, 2014 14:03

    For goodness sake! Why put the safety of others at risk just because of wanting to have a beard for up helly ah? It’s just ridiculous! those firemen should know better.

  • john n oakes

    • January 24th, 2014 17:10

    And previously the beards were okay before this requirement came in? Up Helly Aa

    • Robert Duncan

      • January 25th, 2014 2:31

      Am I missing something, or is the “requirement” not just “we have breathing apparatus now and you have to wear it”?

  • Robina Barton

    • January 24th, 2014 20:59

    1000 men are about to descend on Lerwick with flaming brands and yet it’s the beard hazard that makes the national press #lovethemedia

    • David Lavander

      • January 29th, 2014 17:38

      You have missed the point Robina. The ’employers’ are responsible to ensure the safety of their workforce. Breathing Apparatus is provided to do just that, protect the workforce doing their job. Breathing Apparatus only does its job properly if a good facial seal is maintained, this can not happen if you are unshaven.

  • John Tulloch

    • January 25th, 2014 8:57

    Steady on, boys, these chaps are volunteers, I doubt whether they ‘need’ such payment as they receive from the fire service.

    They are perfectly entitled not to shave off their beards, that is their prerogative.

    Whether they are allowed to remain in the fire service in breach of rules is the fire service’s prerogative.

    For example, the US military now permits beards for sikhs, muslims and jews so why should Shetland ‘Valhallists’ be singled out in this sectarian way?

    And in which Shetland kirk are they more staunch or devout than those of the ‘Temple of Odin’ (Da Galley Shed)?

    • Allen Fraser

      • January 25th, 2014 12:53

      “nec tamen consumebatur”

    • David Lavander

      • January 29th, 2014 17:41

      John, sorry but you do not take on the role of firefighter, voluntary or not, without accepting the responsibility and the rules that come with it! You do not make your mind up on a daily basis that you are going to do the job or not!!

  • Mark Watts

    • January 25th, 2014 10:21

    Wait till a flame catches your beard and sets your face on fire, hair is highly flammable and known to be the best thing for starting a fire with to keep warm.

  • Martin Tregonning

    • January 25th, 2014 11:05

    The world has certainly taken a strange turn when I wake up to Radio Four and the Today program, only to hear Flea’s dulcit tones.

  • Joey Lewis

    • January 25th, 2014 16:41

    Ok. There appears to be some confusion between Retained and Volunteer. Volunteer is just what it says on the tin. Bressay’s fire crew are retained.
    Retained is a PAID JOB. You are paid per callout, per drill night, per school visit, per smoke alarm,etc,etc. Plus an annual retainer.
    I am a full time and Retained firefighter so I am well aware how the system works.
    With reference to only 2 out of 4 on a fire engine needing to wear Breathing apparatus. Wrong.
    Example. Bressay’s fire appliance may be required to attend an incident as a 2nd or 3rd appliance to assist to say Lerwick. On arrival there is already a fire engine being operated as a “pump” so all 4 may be called upon to wear Breathing apparatus to assist the crews already there. I know as an Officer that if I was in charge of an incident that had persons trapped in a fire and the 2nd pump had only 2 persons who could wear Breathing Apparatus I would not be happy.
    Be real. They are firefighters. If they don’t want to be and play Vikings give it up. Simple.

  • Jonathan Welford

    • January 26th, 2014 6:44

    These men are volunteers, not full time employed. They are obviously community spirited as they are partaking in other community event – for which the beards are being grown for.

    As this decision is being forced which one they will chose, they’ve made their decision. It’s only two out of the five, so the solution would be to let the bearded men go on a leave of absence and bring in one more clean shaven firefighter – alternatively employ women who do not have the issue of beard growing!

  • iantinkler

    • January 26th, 2014 11:48

    There is no compromise with fire. A leaking face seal in a ship’s fire or any toxic fire (nearly all types) will result in the firefighter’s death and maybe his team and the victims as well. Get real pseudo Vikings, where on the Earth are your priorities here.

  • Ali Inkster

    • January 26th, 2014 20:20

    breathing apparatus will operate on demand or by positive pressure, fire teams offshore seem to cope with beards using positive pressure why cant the civil service fire fighters do the same. seems to me this is a problem created by a jobsworth and not the beards themselves.

  • Margaret Henderson.

    • January 26th, 2014 20:39

    If an emergency arises on Bressay before Up Helly Aa, surely the firemen could get rid of their beards in a few seconds with the help of a big pair of scissors. They probably have every intention of shaving off their beards when Up Helly Aa is past and would resume their duties clean-shaven, as required. Do the men need to keep their beards because they are in the Guizer Jarl’s squad, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which would make their attitudes understandable?

  • ian Tinkler

    • January 27th, 2014 9:53

    Why not solve this problem by issuing all Viking firemen with emergency scissors and bikini wax. Let’s just hope a trapped child in a fire will forgive them time to trim. On a more serious note this action has cost Bressay a quick response fire team. For that distorted priority for “a once in a lifetime opportunity “perhaps no comment is necessary.

  • Stewart Mac

    • January 27th, 2014 10:00

    You appear to have missed my point – I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be a risk in an ineffective seal to a BA mask – What I am saying is that of a retained crew of 4, it is simply not permitted for all 4 to don BA equipment and enter premises. So if all 4 cannot wear the equipment at the same time then the disruption to service is limited somewhat is it not? I cant remember whether there must be at least 1 (or 2) outside the scene at all times (I suspect only1) which means that there is only 1 of the 3 remaining possible BA set wearers that are affected by this.

  • Stewart Mac

    • January 27th, 2014 10:02

    Ian, Thanks for your comments. However you seem to have missed the point I (and others) were making in order to put your own points across. Very Good but that doesn’t make them go away now does it?

  • ian Tinkler

    • January 27th, 2014 12:33

    Stewart, you are the one missing the point. In an emergency, a fire fighter whom can not wear his BA is a risk to his team and those he is trying to rescue. In a ships fire, if a member or members of a team are injured or trapped, without fully equipped and functional team members to back them up, they are dead, pure and simple. What exactly was the point I have missed here, as an RN trained fire-fighter I regard it as incredible a quick reaction service such as this should be compromised for such a silly reason. Hence the comment about bikini wax. Please note “Folk in Bressay are without a fire crew because two firemen have refused to shave off their beards ” it is not as if they faced castration, or is it?

  • Joe Johnson

    • January 27th, 2014 16:20

    I have to agree with Ian Tinkler. What he’s said on this thread is spot on! I still can’t believe how silly this is, Bressay without a firecrew all because 2 firefighters refuse to shave off their beards! Crazy! I just hope to dear God that there are no emergencey call outs on Bressay during up helly a.

    • John Tulloch

      • January 27th, 2014 18:39

      If the men won’t shave their beards off because they’re going to Up Helly-Aa, it’s unlikely they’d be available during the festival, anyway – unless, of course, you want someone to sing ‘The Norseman’s Home’?

  • Ali Inkster

    • January 27th, 2014 18:11

    i’ve just seen the STV news where it was stated that one fire fighter had applied for an exemption and these two had not, and there is no problem with the fire fighter who applied, so this is as I suspected not a case of safety but a mere matter of paperwork.

  • John Tulloch

    • January 27th, 2014 18:34

    If there was a road tunnel to Bressay,mwould we be discussing this?

  • Raymond Smith, Kirkwall

    • January 28th, 2014 2:45

    Their was a jarl a couple a years ago who was a fireman at Sumburgh airport- 3rd generation jarl Simpson I think.

  • Harry Dent

    • January 28th, 2014 10:30

    I’ve seen it suggested in a blog by infamous advocate for beards Keith Flett that it’s possible to shave around a beard in such a way as to allow breathing appartus to be worn safely.

    I know nothing of either breathing apparatus or beard-grooming, but would be interested to hear whether his peace proposal is feasible.

    • John Tulloch

      • January 28th, 2014 11:34

      Ever seen a Viking with a ‘designer stubble’ goatee?

  • Peter W. Anderson

    • January 28th, 2014 11:48

    Firstly, if their was a road tunnel to Bressay, one legal requirement is that there would be specialized fire engines loaded with equipment, and fire fighters trained in fighting fires in tunnels, at each end of it.

    Many of the isles fire fighters originally volunteered for this, to provide a service to their fellow neighbour in times of trouble – for little reward – except the knowledge that you may save a life or someone’s property.

    In recent years the Fire and Rescue service has changed. Volunteer status was deleted, all the existing fire fighters were offered the chance to sign up to ‘Retained’ status.

    Across Shetland many could not, as their full time employment did not allow them to meet the criteria to attend all required training, drills etc without incurring some penalty. And as no-one could survive on the fire service retainer salary, many had to give it up.

    In Island communities such as our own, there are limited persons who can be available 24/7 as so many essentially work away from home. It will – and is – increasingly difficult to recruit new fire fighters in these communities as few can give up so much of their own time/leave work at the drop of a hat if necessary.

    Red tape is now preventing local fire fighters from doing what they originally volunteered to do.

    Among other Bureaucracy, fire fighters must sign off duty if leaving the island for any reason e.g. work/hospital/attend Mareel/wedding/meet family or friends or go to Up Helly Aa. Fire fighters are often signed off for other personal reasons, and wearing beards seems to be one of these.

    The public are mostly unaware that if certain person(s) are signed off, the whole local brigade do not get ‘paged’ or alerted by pager, if a fire is reported by 999 call.

    Bressay is not alone in this bureaucratic nightmare. On Whalsay there could be 9 fire fighters, well trained in the use of BA and all other fire fighting techniques, capable of driving the LGV fire engine – and clean shaven, would not be called if the other 4 were away. These fire fighters would not be paged, the fire would burn until Brae or Lerwick sevice appliance arrived. This could at best take 2 hours.

    Today (28.1.14) our ferry service has just been suspended due to weather (11.15am). Someone’s house could be burning with no outside help coming, and a fire engine standing ready a few miles away.

    I personally believe it would be better to have the best trained, most quickly available help arriving to try their best, rather than wait for outside help because of rules & regs. But this is the world (or country) we now live in.

    Do not forget that these are persons prepared to endanger their own lives to help others, who’s hands are being tied because of recent changes in their employment conditions.

    Peter W. Anderson
    Fire Fighter
    21 years.

  • John Tulloch

    • January 28th, 2014 13:36

    Outstanding comment, Peter.

  • Richard Kite

    • January 28th, 2014 17:08

    Dear Editor,

    A firefighter with a beard is a topic which has generated much opinion but in all my years in the oil industry where breathing apparatus is often required when in gas zones, I can recall no case of a bearded person told to remove the facial hair.
    Most breathing apparatus must have a positive pressure when worn and adjustments can be made to ensure this by instructing the wearer of the problems and what is required to provide the best seal between mask and skin.
    I can of course quote one of the most dangerous gas atmospheres where breathing apparatus and a seal of air is required, this being petroleum gas with more than 5 parts per million hydrogen sulphide. In this atmosphere, the wearer also must not have perforated ear drums, because this compound of gas can be breathed through the ears and be fatal.
    However, we all need awareness and I feel sure most firefighters do take seriously advice and avoid risk.
    Nevertheless on a lighter note, when I was working in the Bahrain refinery, all staff were required to do fire training at a low level. One of the tests was, by using a fire hose handled by two people, to push back a 6 foot low pressure flame from a flange joining a pipe and a valve and move forward to turn the valve off to cut off the gas supply and extinguish the flame.
    Most of those engaged in this exercise had no problems but one particular day a Sikh and a western fellow were engaged on the test and provided excitement. By some lack of co-ordination, both individuals pulled the fire hose nozzle in opposite directions and the flame came round the side of the water cone used to push the flame back to the flange. The result was, the Sikh had a very quick clean shave by flame and both, unhurt but embarrassed, reconciled their different approach to the test at a later date.
    The moral is, if you have a beard it may depart from your face quickly if you are firefighting and not working in accord.

    Yours truly
    Richard Kite

  • Stewart Mac

    • January 29th, 2014 13:59

    Well said Peter, your comments are insightful


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