A CAMPAIGN run by the Inverness Courier to recruit retained firefighters has been applauded for its lasting legacy.
Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay has championed the good work of the Fire Alarm: Your Service Needs You campaign and the role it has played in raising the profile of retained duty system (RDS) staff.
The Inverness Courier launched the campaign last December in partnership with the fire service, aiming to recruit more firefighters, after it emerged almost one in four retained posts was vacant across the region.
The staffing crisis had resulted in fire units being unable to respond to incidents because there were not enough trained personnel available to use appliances.
As a result some rural communities saw fire engines having to travel in to them from other areas, costing time and leaving other parts of the region unprotected.
Attending the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service annual ministerial performance review in Inverness, ACO Ramsay also spoke to the paper about the campaign afterwards.
"I think from my perspective and the organisation’s perspective the Courier was very good," he said. "You brought an awful lot of assistance in attracting people into the RDS and I don’t think we can ignore that.
"More than that it gave people the knowledge that it is a decent thing to do for your community.
"I would encourage the service to continue working with the media and make sure that we get the word out."
During the campaign more than 150 people from across the Highlands applied for retained firefighter positions in a bid to fill more than 129 places.
ACO Ramsay said: "People want to do the right thing for their community but it is about helping people imagine what they could do and to encourage that thought within someone’s mind."
And although he is proud of what the joint campaign has been able to achieve, he does not believe that it is a job complete.
"There are still gaps across Scotland – gaps that have been there and existed for a long time and I am just not certain that the capacity exists within those communities to make sure that we plug those gaps," he said.
"So if that is the truth then it is time to look at another model – lighter and more flexible and something that has got a stronger reach back, a point of support within the service."
Ideas for dealing with the ongoing personnel shortage include recruiting a whole-time crew manager for retained units or investing in new technology that will allow a smaller number of firefighters to deploy a smaller appliance.
Currently a fire engine cannot respond to a call without a minimum of four people, but new technologies such as lighter, more powerful hoses could bring this requirement down to three, allowing some small units to increase their availability. These are all the tools in our box now that we need to consider – how best to use them and deploy them," ACO Ramsay said.
Although many rural crews are not always fighting fires, ACO Ramsay does not want to downplay their importance.
"A lot of these units aren’t particularly busy when it comes to operations but they add more social value with their community work and their knowledge," he said.
"It is about saying that these things are important for RDS units in the 21st century and if a crew manager was there picking up all the issues of training, bureaucracy, admin and maintenance then it would free up more time for retained firefighters to do that softer bit of community engagement and working with young people.
"I would appeal to people to examine their own lives and think could I be part of this unit? Can I add value?
"And if the answer is yes then come along to a local station.
"I am most grateful personally and the organisation is in debt to the Inverness Courier. It has created a legacy and it has created fresh impetus to what we have at the moment and I think we can use that in the future. It has been hugely valuable."
The fire service is currently accepting applications for retained personnel in Fortrose, Invergordon, Bonar Bridge, Dingwall, Dornoch, Achiltibuie, Aultbea, Bettyhill, Dunbeath, Durness, Golspie, Helmsdale, John o’ Groats, Kinlochbervie, Lairg, Lochinver, Scourie, Tongue, Ullapool, Wick and Gairloch.
To become a retained firefighter you have to be over 18, have good eyesight and live or work within five to eight minutes of the fire station you would like to work for.
For more information or to apply visit www.firescotland.gov.uk/work-with-us.aspx
At last week’s ministerial meeting it was also announced that a new consultation will be launched this month, with the public being urged to give their views on fire service ideas as well as making any suggestions of their own about how services can be improved.
Plans to create new firefighter cadet units to encourage a new generation of firefighters will also be consulted on.