Orkney MSP Liam McArthur held further discussions today with senior Scottish Fire and Rescue (SFRS) officials about ongoing problems the service faces in attracting and retaining crew members in the islands. These problems have resulted in stations being taken ‘off the run’ and concerns being raised about the potential impact on public safety and property.
Following a meeting in parliament last month, Mr McArthur again met SFRS Area Manager for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, Billy Wilson to consider how training and other requirements on retained crews could be made more manageable and tailored to island needs.
As a result of the meeting, Mr McArthur has written to Annabelle Ewing MSP, the Minister responsible for Scotland’s fire service, urging her to support investment in training facilities in Orkney. Mr McArthur has argued that providing these facilities would help reduce the time fire crew members need to spend out of Orkney undertaking training. This in turn would increase the chances of island residents being able to take on roles in the fire service, without jeopardising other work and family commitments.
Following the meeting, Mr McArthur said:
“Retained fire stations are vital to keeping our island communities safe. It is therefore a real concern that the service continues to experience problems in attracting and retaining crew members. In some instances, this has resulted in stations being ‘off the run’ for prolonged periods. That is simply not in anyone’s interests.
“I remain firmly of the view that a more tailored approach is needed in the islands. It was helpful to have a further chance to discuss with Billy Wilson ways in which such an approach might work in practice. I am confident this can be achieved without compromising the safety of fire crew members themselves.
“Ultimately, though, it is the time required for initial and ongoing training that is proving most challenging. I argued that better use could be made of the fire service’s existing mobile training units, including taking these out to the smaller islands to carry out training modules. However, we urgently need improved facilities based in Orkney, similar to those already in place in Shetland and the Western Isles.
“Plans for upgrading the facilities at Kirkwall airport have been on the table for some time. To date, however, a lack of capital funding has prevented them being delivered.
“I have therefore written to the Minister responsible, Annabelle Ewing demanding that steps are now taken to ensure that this upgrade takes place as soon as possible.
“Having more training available locally makes sense on every level. It can help cut costs for the fire service through reducing the need to send people south for training. It would help address problems of recruitment and retention locally. And in turn it would provide island communities with the reassurance they seek that their needs are being met.
“I hope the Scottish government will respond positively to that common sense message”.