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Political opposition grows to Inverness fire cuts

By Andrew Dixon

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new fire chief Trevor Johnson
new fire chief Trevor Johnson

POLITICAL opposition is growing to plans to shake up the region’s fire service, with some members questioning the leadership of chief fire officer Trevor Johnson.

As revealed by The Inverness Courier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson will today warn the fire board that he may suspend operations at stations he believes "present the greatest risk to the board and the service" without seeking the approval of elected members.

"This is a noting point for the board and as chief fire officer I already have that power," he insisted yesterday, adding he did not think councillors could refuse him.

"We want to work with communities to maintain the fire service at an appropriate level. Clearly if we have to take a station off the run, I recognise that’s going to be a concern for the communities and board members but we need to get through this phase."

Mr Johnson — who was adamant he did not have a list of stations to be axed — denied he was trying to take decisions out of the hands of councillors. "Everything to do with the future shape of the service will always come back to the board for a decision."

If agreed, single appliance units with crewing levels well below the minimum recommended level of 10, or which are considered to be insufficiently trained, could be taken off the road immediately. An emergency board meeting has been called for 2nd March to decide criteria under which "unsustainable" stations could be closed permanently.

But Mr Johnson is unlikely to be given a smooth ride.

Board member and former firefighter, Councillor Fraser Parr, believes any reduction in cover would be wrong.

"I’m rather wary of these delegated powers because I haven’t got a lot of confidence in what is happening in the service at the moment at management level," he said. "People will be worried and concerned that it will be a postcode lottery as to what type of fire coverage is provided and I don’t think that’s acceptable."

Inverness West SNP councillor Pauline Munro wants to know what contingency plans are in place.

"I have very severe concerns about senior management," she said. "There are a number of questions to be asked, which I honestly don’t believe they (senior management) will have the answers to. If that is the case we will be seeking changes to the report."

Meanwhile, board chairman Richard Durham has described any attempt to permanently close stations for financial reasons as "politically unacceptable".

Up to £4 million must be found to pay for extra firefighters and improve training, with remote fire stations which receive few call-outs expected to be under threat. Thirty-five part time retained stations across the region are understaffed with crews of eight or fewer.

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