When the national Police and Fire services were created by the Scottish Government, councillors lost any real ability to scrutinise the work of these services in their area. Whereas before councillors set priorities based on the needs of their local communities, these decisions are effectively now made at a national level. There are opportunities to question senior officers, but our opportunity to influence is limited.
This week, station manager David McDiarmid discussed the performance of the fire service in Lochaber with councillors. I sought reassurance that community fire stations were safe even where there have been recruitment difficulties leading to lower availability figures. I asked for confirmation that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service wouldn’t look at low availability figures and use that as an excuse to close a station or remove a fire appliance, without addressing recruitment issues. The officer indicated that the fire service would not take that approach and that it is more important stations are located where they are needed. I’ve followed that up with a letter to the Fire Service seeking written confirmation.
With shifting employment patterns, meaning firefighters are often working outside the required response time, the availability of individual stations is affected. This is an important issue in rural areas. The fire service has targeted women in rural areas for recruitment, as they are often available during the day when children are at school. In Lochaline, most firefighters are women. Whilst Lochaber has the best proportion of female firefighters in the Highlands, the service could do much to recruit more and solve the station availability problem.