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McArthur: Changes to firefighter roles must not increase island challenges

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has urged the Scottish Government to ensure that proposed changes to the roles carried out by firefighters will not make the challenge of recruitment and retention of fire crew in island communities more difficult.

According to Mr McArthur, the plans proposed by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service last year, fire crews would take on an increased role including responding to terrorist incidents, helping elderly people and assisting with medical emergencies. It was acknowledged at the time that some of this simply reflects more formally what firefighters are already doing.

Speaking at oral questions yesterday in Holyrood, Mr McArthur highlighted the challenges retained fire crews face in balancing work and home commitments. Orkney’s MSP said this was “particularly the case for an island community like Orkney” as personnel are required to travel onto the mainland, if not further south for training.

Responding to Mr McArthur, Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing MSP confirmed she was aware of the concerns raised and would ensure the nature of training was at the “fore of their [Scottish Fire and Rescue Service] activities”.

Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said: Retained fire crews are vital to keeping our island communities safe. However, there have been difficulties in attracting and retaining crew, in part due to the requirements for regular training that can be difficult to fit around other work and home commitments.

“The proposed enhancement of firefighter roles may be a positive step but it must not make these challenges worse. Even at a time when improved training facilities at Kirkwall airport offer the chance to reduce the need for training to take place out of Orkney, it is essential that we avoid putting more obstacles in the way of people taking up or continuing in these vital roles.

“From my discussions with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service leaders, they recognise this risk and have promised to take steps to address it.  Likewise, it was encouraging to hear the Minister offer her own reassurances that resources will be put in to respond to these changing demands.”

“Given the importance of these retained stations and crew to our island communities these assurances must now be followed up by action. This is something I will be keeping a close eye on as this process is taken forward in the months and years ahead”.

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