CONCERNS have been raised about fire cover in the Highlands after six out of seven new recruits failed a fitness test.
The trainees – including a former Royal Marine – were put through a tough new training programme at Fort William fire station on Saturday but only one made the grade.
The tests, which included climbing stairs in high-rise buildings, carrying unconscious victims, pitching heavy ladders and hauling bulky equipment, proved too much for six candidates.
The recruits, had they passed, were due to be deployed to Kilchoan and Kinlochleven fire stations.
Community leaders in those areas are now worried that the fitness failures will leave fire stations undermanned and expose them to danger. The nearest stations are around an hour’s drive away from both villages.
Rosie Curtis, chairwoman of the West Ardnamurchan Community Council and a retained firefighter herself, said: “It is a worry for us.”
She added that two of the failed candidates had gone from her area.
She said: “[They] were pretty fit and I’ve been told one of the lads from Kinlochleven was actually a former Marine, so the standard has obviously been set very high.
“If they used that test for the current stations they would lose a lot of members so it has been a worry for us since we heard.”
She added: “I have been told that it was just a pilot scheme so we’re hoping to hear something in the next week.
“I feel for the ones that failed but hopefully it won’t put them off – ideally they would be invited back to sit another test and they can still join the teams.”
According to the UK’s Fire Service website new recruits are expected to undergo a series of tests to test their fitness, strength and confidence.
The fitness tests include running as far as you can over 12 minutes, a bleep test where recruits run a 20m track over a time periods that gets faster that longer it goes on and a VO2 max test where a candidate runs while connected to a breathing monitor to measure how well their body moves oxygen around their body.
Other practical tests for a trainee include ‘rescuing’ a 55kg dummy, a claustrophobia test where recruits manoeuvre their way through dark enclosed spaces, equipment assembly tests and climbing a 44ft ladder (13.5m) where they lock one leg in one of the rungs and lean back to a horizontal position.
In July this year a study by Loughborough University found that half of the UK’s firemen are classed as overweight and 13 per cent are clinically obese.
The report found that “obesity among firefighters can present a hindrance to operational effectiveness”.
And research carried out in 2000 by Dr Christopher Ide, chief medical officer for Strathclyde Fire Service, found that firefighters in their 40s and 50s were three times more overweight than new recruits.
A the time of the report he said: “To be a firefighter it helps to be nimble, to be able to get in and out of tight spaces and to jump out of the way of falling debris.
Dr Ide also remarked that overweight firemen have been given advice about their diet, lifestyle and fitness since 1995, but the problem has been “ongoing”.
Billy Wilson, Director of Service Support at Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. Said: “The Service, as agreed by the Fire Board, have introduced the national standard for selection of firefighters, which is applied by the other Fire and Rescue Services in the UK.
“The national standard for fitness testing is a fundamental part of ensuring the health, safety and welfare of potential employees into the Service.
“The Service issues a pack to recruits in advance of the fitness testing which provides information and advice on how to prepare for the fitness tests.
“We would encourage any potential applicants to prepare in advance for the selection process before making an application to join the Service by visiting the National Fire Fit Steering Group website.”
When asked what the recruits had to endure that nearly all of them failed Mr Wilson said: “The Service takes its responsibility in relation to confidentiality very seriously and will not comment on individual cases.”