The fire brigade has launched a major recruitment drive for retained fire fighters with four community stations in Shetland “desperately” short of staff.
According to Lerwick-based Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) station manager Myles Murray, the brigade is understaffed at Bixter, Bressay, Fair Isle, Fetlar, Hillswick, Sumburgh, Walls, Brae, Scalloway and Mid Yell.
More part-time fire fighters are urgently needed at Brae, Sumburgh, Fetlar and Walls.
The SFRS is looking to recruit 56 retained staff throughout Shetland to bring all community stations up to complement – based on each station having one appliance and 12 crew. Brae – which has two appliances – is looking to recruit 10, Walls, six, Sumburgh, five and Fetlar, nine.
With three crew members Fetlar is one short of the complement of four needed to operate its fire engine – a situation that has been ongoing for “months”, according to Community Safety and Resilience Board vice-chairman Allison Duncan. According to Mr Duncan, getting Fetlar “up and running” is a “priority” for the fire service.
Above all, recruitment was about achieving safety for the public and the fire personnel themselves.
He said: “We really need to encourage people to come forward and become fire fighters in Shetland. It is up to the communities to try and encourage [potential] fire fighters to come forward in all localities in Shetland.
“My top and foremost concern is the safety of everyone in the communities in Shetland and for the fire fighters themselves. When they have call-outs they do their job exceptionally well. They have nothing but my respect and admiration for the way they do it.”
Eighteen people are in the process of being recruited – eight at Sandwick, two each in Hillswick, Scalloway and Sumburgh, and one each in Brae, Fetlar, Lerwick and Whalsay.
The recruitment process, which Mr Duncan said was “highly bureaucratic” was also being streamlined, with the SFRS slimming it down to nine to 16 weeks from the present three to 18 months, with further steps being considered to streamline it even further.
Mr Duncan was keen to stress that the SFRS is making “positive steps ahead” in Shetland, despite operating within tight budgetary constraints.
Sandwick has recently taken delivery of a new, larger fire engine. The 2,000 litre water capacity Scania replaces a 1,800 litre Volvo and has more room for staff and equipment. The acquisition has freed up the old vehicle to act as a dedicated reserve appliance, the “first in many years”, when others are off the road for maintenance. Newer, better, fire engines were also being considered for several other stations.
Mr Duncan understood the Sandwick crew were “delighted” with the new appliance and that bringing in new vehicles was always a morale booster.
Mr Murray said he would welcome anyone who wanted to join the service to come and discuss the job with him at the Lerwick fire station. He added that as many people would apply as possible, as some will inevitably not pass the selection process.
Anyone over the age of 18 can apply to be a fire fighter but must meet the criteria specified in the SFRS website. There is no upper age limit to applying.
Retained fire fighters are paid a retaining fee of up to £2,905 and an hourly rate that rises to £13.27 plus a £3.82 disturbance allowance. Retained firemen are required to respond to a pager alert within five to eight minutes if they are on duty.
Meanwhile the SFRS is urging people to avoid setting “preventable fires” in this month and next when there is normally a surge in deliberate fire raising.
The SFRS is working with the police, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the SIC and Crimestoppers Scotland to prevent fires and the police is highlighting the need to report fire offending.
SFRS local senior officer for Orkney and Shetland Billy Wilson said: “We want to ensure the Easter Break period is an enjoyable one for everyone, but it’s equally important that people remain safe from fire.”
“Over the next few months we’ll typically see an increase in the amount of deliberate fires and fly-tipping. SFRS is appealing, in particular to young people as they go on school holidays for the Easter Break, to consider the consequences of deliberately setting a fire.”
He urged parents to ensure their children knew about the potentially tragic consequences deliberate fires could have, as well as the impact for responding emergency services.
“As we enter the time of year where we typically see warmer weather there’s a risk we could see an increase in the amount of moorland and grass fires,” he added.
“Our crews work hard to provide education and advice about the risks and also respond when fires do break out. The public can help them to keep people safe by heeding our safety advice and sharing it with others. Many fires, including rubbish, refuse, grass, fly-tipping and wildfires in the countryside are started deliberately or are due to careless, reckless or irresponsible behaviour.
“Fire setting is an offence – don’t accept it, report it. If you suspect someone of acting suspiciously, recklessly or irresponsibly call Scotland Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800555111 or call Police Scotland on 101.”
SIC infrastructure services director Maggie Sandison said that fly-tipping was illegal and extremely dangerous and unmonitored waste was a fire hazard. She urged people to use Gremista waste disposal site to dispose of waste properly.
She urged the public to report fly-tipping to environmental health on 01595 745250.
Police chief inspector Lyndsay Tulloch added: “Wilful fire-raising is something we take very seriously and we work closely with SFRS to ensure that offenders are identified and reported.”
SFRS also urged the public to arrange a free fire safety home visit by calling 0800 0731999 or on the internet at www.firescotland.gov.uk.
There were 2,348 deliberate fires throughout Scotland from 2nd March to 27th April last year. That was well down from 4677 in the same period in 2010 and although the SFRS was “making a considerable impact” there is “still much work to be done to reduce the number of fires further,” said Mr Wilson.