Orkney MSP Liam McArthur today met with senior Scottish Fire and Rescue (SFRS) officials to discuss concerns about recruitment and retention of crews in local stations in Orkney.
Following recent reports of local retained stations being taken ‘off the run’, Mr McArthur met with Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Andy Coueslant, Head of Service Delivery in the North of Scotland, and Bill Wilson, Area Manager for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
Mr McArthur raised concerns that local people are being put off remaining in or joining the service due to the time commitments required for initial and ongoing training. This can involve lengthy periods away from home and Orkney, which is not compatible with other work and family commitments.
Following the meeting, Mr McArthur said:
“It is clear that a number of our islands continue to face serious challenges in attracting and retaining fire crew. This in turn is leading to stations being taken ‘off the run’ and relying on a response from the mainland.
“The meeting with Andy Coueslant and Billy Wilson was useful in allowing me to relay local concerns and discuss ways in which these problems might be addressed.
“I welcome the steps that have been taken to ensure adverts for vacancies no longer refer to candidates having to live a specific time or distance from the station. That is really not relevant in the islands, where the alternative would be a response time from the station in Stromness or Kirkwall.
“There is still work to be done in relation to training requirements, however. Too often the time requirement to attend training outwith Orkney appears to be discouraging people from applying for posts. Making sure training is relevant to local circumstances and risks is key, as is locally delivery of as much of that training as possible.
“SFRS insist moves in that direction have been made, but often the take up remains low. Mr Coueslant and Mr Wilson confirmed that further consultation with crew members and local communities in Orkney is due to take place. I have agreed to meet with Mr Wilson in Orkney later in the summer to consider what further improvements can be put in place.
“Retained fire stations are vitally important to the communities they serve. I will continue to press for changes that allow them to be sustained and hope ways can be found to make these roles more attractive to those living in the islands.”