Firefighters sought from Mearns

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GRAMPIAN Fire Service is looking to recruit new retained firefighters and there are vacancies at both the Stonehaven and Laurencekirk stations.

A recruitment drive is underway as the level of retained crews throughout Aberdeenshire has been steadily dwindling. The time period causing most concern is between 8am and 5pm, the normal working day.

The fire service will still provide a response to all incidents, but without the support of local people, this might take a little longer.

The service is also calling on employers to support the idea of their workforce applying to become retained firefighters.

Many employers have been able to reap the benefit of their employees learning skills through the fire service which are transferrable to the workplace, such as first aid.

Retained firefighters (men or women) must be over the age of 18 and possess a good level of fitness. They must be able to respond to their fire station within five minutes of being alerted.

After a period of initial training, successful applicants are required to attend their local station one evening per week for training for a period of around 2 1/2 hours.

Watch Manager at the Stonehaven fire station is John Strachan and he is presently in charge of a team of 18 retained firefighters.

John says: “We would like to recruit two or three more firefighters if we can get them.

“At this station we have three appliances, two pumps and a water carrier and to get them all out we need a minimum of ten people available at any one time.

“With a team of 18 at present, this puts pressure on the guys to always be available.

“We are looking for people who are available in the daytime in particular. The five minute response rule is easy for anyone who works within the town.

“There is no upper age limit. We want candidates to demonstrate the right qualities at interview and show the level of committment we are looking for.

“All the personnel at the moment have other jobs, so the co-operation of the employer is crucial.

“Stonehaven responds to just under 200 callouts a year which is less than four a week and a number of these could be weekends or evenings.”

Qualified retained firefighters receive an annual retaining fee of £2,821. They are also paid a callout fee for responding to incidents and a further hourly rate while on the job. They are also paid for any further training periods required and there is a paid annual leave allocation.

WM Strachan says: “Firefighters are well remunerated. When we are at an incident with our whole-time colleagues we know we are on the same rate as them. There is also access to the pension scheme.”

If only one applicance is required for a particular “shout” an officer, a driver and the first four firefighters to respond would attend. All others who respond are paid their callout fee.

New firefighters would start off by operating ladders, hoses and cutting equipment, then after the first six months, they would attend a two-week breathing apparatus course.

Firefighters of two to three years service would then, if they wished, go on a driving course to obtain their LGV licence. This licence is of course a valuable string to the bow in everyday life.

WM Strachan has been a firefighter for 36 years and describes is as “the best job in the world”.

He runs his own building and joinery company and two of his employees are retained firefighters who have gained first aid and LGV qualifications.

“I was just an apprentice joiner when I first joined the fire service and I would advise any young person to join if they can.

“I get the same buzz now on a callout as when I first started. I can say that Grampian Fire and Rescue is one of the best services you will find anywhere.”

Station Manager Sean Cox is responsible for eight stations in Aberdeenshire and he says that any new recruits will receive the highest quality training to help them do the job.

“Firefighters are trained in the core things first and then there are other opportunities.

“Stonehaven is one of four retained stations where there is training in the use of gas-tight suits. The crew are also water rescue trained to level two and all recruits will get a chance to experience this training.

“Candidates are given an initial interview, then are put through a point of entry course.

“If they are made a job offer, they will train as a trainee for six months, then go on a four day course.”

Callouts to which the Stonehaven and Laurencekirk crews respond include road traffic collisions, of which there are many because of the close proximity of the busy A90. Other callouts include chimney fires and grass fires which have been prevalent very early this year because of the dry and hot weather.

A total of six applicances had to respond to a major grass fire incident near the top of the Cairn o’ Mount on Wednesday of last week. It took some nine hours for the 30 firefighters to bring the fires under control.

The local firefighters also responded to the floods in Stonehaven of 2009, rescuing people who were in real danger in their own homes.