RFU Response to H&I Firefighter Safety Audit
The RFU is disappointed to read recent reports in the local media questioning the competency of ‘Retained’ firefighters in Highlands and Islands. In an effort to reassure members of the public the RFU would like to go on record stating that in our opinion the level of service provided by members of the Retained Duty System (RDS) is the same as that provided by our Wholetime colleagues.
The issue of training and whether Retained staff receive adequate provision of training compared to Wholetime staff has been used as a political football for decades. It has been used as an argument by some to maintain a facade that to be a firefighter you need to be training 42 hours a week every week and have the physique of a Russian shot-putter, we have for many years been trying to remove this stigma and embrace a wider audience to become part of their local community by joining the Fire Service, unfortunately while we live in the 21st century others want to live in the past and create a divide between Wholetime and Retained personnel.
What other part of industry would expect their employees to train every week to carry out their job? While we agree that the role of a firefighter can be dangerous at times, 2-3 hours per week to maintain these skills is more than adequate. The Fire Service is driven by health and safety best practice and is far less dangerous that other types of employment such as farming, we do not read in the news that farmers are not undertaking enough training to be deemed competent yet some are treating the fire service as a special case. The same can be said for policing and the ambulance service, neither of which expect their employees to undertake refresher training every week and whose ability to do the job is not in question.
As an organisation that solely represents Retained firefighters throughout the UK, the RFU believe that the public should be proud of their local fire station and its crew, they are extremely dedicated and deserve better recognition than to have their professionalism questioned in the press by other organisations.
A number of fire stations over recent years have changed status from ‘volunteer’ to ‘retained’ which brings different expectations from the service, this change will take a period of time to bed in, you cannot simply flick a switch and expect everyone to perform differently overnight. What has to be stressed is that the stations that were previously volunteer are in extremely remote areas which have totally different types of risk compared to more urban areas, it would be inappropriate to expect all stations and crews to be trained in the same risk when the likelihood of ever experiencing such an incident is nil, to a degree training needs to be tailored according to local risk. We would also question whether the current tests are appropriate and relevant to the real expectations placed upon these firefighters, the tests must be fit for purpose.
Whilst we place firefighter safety and competence as our main priority, we do not believe that there should be a ‘sheep dip’ approach to training across H&I as the type and level of risk varies greatly across the region, if there are development needs identified by the service we will work with H&I Fire & Rescue Service to ensure that the necessary support is provided to our members to enable them to undertake their role accordingly.
Jim Kilpatrick National Officer for Scotland
Paul Taylor Assistant National Officer for Scotland
Alastair.MacArthur, RFU Chair, Highlands and Islands