Questions Raised Over Cost Of New Fire Fighter Fitness Tests

fire engine st marys 2Councillors have questioned the need for expensive fitness testing of island fire fighters as part of new government rules.

Chief Fire Officer Steve Webster told the recent General Purposes Committee meeting that pension rules changes mean serving fire personnel will now have to work until the age of 60, rather than retiring at 55.

But the fire service union is concerned officers won’t be physically capable of the work as they get older.

This has led to strike action on the mainland, said Steve. That’s because fire fighters could be forced out of the service if they can’t maintain their fitness levels, potentially losing valuable pension benefits.

New rules mean officer’s fitness levels will need to be tested.

Steve said on the islands, it could cost up to £5,000 a year to bring in independent assessors or send fire fighters to the mainland.

But councillors questioned why they couldn’t use the existing island facilities.

Council Chairman Amanda Martin said she was surprised to hear it was difficult for staff to keep fit on the islands.

She said we pride ourselves on fact that its easier here than elsewhere, with access to a number of sports and means of exercise.

Steve said he wasn’t implying that staff were unfit, just that it was difficult to arrange their assessments.

But Cllr Richard McCarthy said he still couldn’t see why we need special arrangements on the islands.

We have GP’s who test people’s health, an amazing array of gym equipment and fitness trainers in the Council, said Richard.

But former retained fire fighter, Cllr Colin Daly, had sympathy with the situation.

He said he knows how difficult it was to perform what was physically asked of him after the age of 55 and feels he wouldn’t have made it to 60.

He wanted to know what would happen to fire fighters who failed the new tests.

Steve said anyone in that situation would be offered a chance to regain their fitness levels and, if they had a medical condition, they could retire without loss to their pension.

He warned that the additional cost of providing that assurance could fall to local authorities. The government was still deciding who would pay, said Steve.

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