Douglas Ross was commenting in his role as chairman of the Moray Council police, fire and rescue services committee following claims by union leaders that the part time volunteer fire cover in Scotland was ‘on its knees’ in large parts of the country.
Senior management of the newly amalgamated Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have admitted that it is the part time stations that are of greatest concern, with retained stations making up the bulk of services in remote and rural areas.
Around 43% of firefighters are ‘retained’, that is professional officers who have other jobs but respond to emergency calls in an area that covers all but 10% of Scotland.
Giving evidence to members of the Scottish Parliament on what he says is a legacy of problems being faced by the joint fire service, Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Scotland, John Duffy, said: “Some of the things that have been discovered in the past year have been quite shocking.
“One of those from the union perspective and the number one priority for us will be the retained duty system, which is on its knees.
“Large parts geographically of our country don’t have fire cover.”
Fochabers/Lhanbryde Tory Councillor Douglas Ross said: “There is certainly concern about response times, because it can take longer to assemble a crew.
“We all expect emergency services to be there when a 999 call is made. If there continues to be a problem attracting retained firefighters it will one day cause a serious problem.”
Pat Watters, chair of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service board, said: “I agree with John Duffy – it is probably one of the biggest problems facing the service at the current time.
“There have been many attempts in the past to massage the retained duty system but we can’t do it any more.”