Rules determining the eligibility of people to serve as retained firefighters have been branded “utterly ridiculous” after a 23-year-old Yorkshire Dales man wanting to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and grandfather was rejected from joining the service purely because he wears glasses.
Callum Iveson, who works at the community office in Hawes, said after taking time off work at short notice to take physical examinations and a practical test to join North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, and after booking two weeks off work to undertake training, he was told his eyesight was not good enough.
He said out of two people to have applied for the role at the fire station, which is among numerous rural stations struggling to recruit retained firefighters, both were rejected solely on grounds of their sight.
Mr Iveson said: “I have got a prescription, but I’m definitely not the type of person who can’t find their glasses if I drop them.
“I was told short-sightedness could not be over -.75 if you are 25 and over and if you are under 25 it must be -.25 or under, which is a very very small prescription.
“The fire service makes adjustments for these things. If you are wearing a breathing apparatus mask they have got lenses to correct it. I don’t understand why the standards are so strict.”
Mr Iveson added he had been surprised after learning the brigade needed more on-call firefighters to maintain the service in the area and being the only person to attend an open day in Hawes to have had no acknowledgement of his application for at least two months.
He said: “I sent several applications which only got chased up after I spoke to them.”
Hawes councillor Jill McMullon said she had been stunned by the policy in an area that was struggling to find enough on-call firefighters to attend incidents.
She said: “I find it utterly ridiculous that they are crying out for volunteers on a retainer and then at the last minute telling them they are not suitable.
“There are young men in the area who are willing to be basically volunteer firefighters, but obstacles are being put in their way which is putting communities at risk.
“The problem is that we have stations in Hawes, Reeth and Settle, but if they haven’t a full crew, which they haven’t at the moment, they are having to get firefighters to go to the other areas, leaving areas exposed.”
A spokesman for the Office of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said keeping on-call fire engines available was “a major challenge locally and nationally” and the county’s fire service had launched a review of on-call arrangements last year, to improve availability by identifying improvements to the recruitment process, amongst other matters.
He said: “Recruitment follows the national process and expected standards, but a close look at North Yorkshire’s local recruitment process has highlighted some scope for improvement.
“In particular, with reference to eyesight, sometimes on-call applicants can fail the eye test at the end of the process, having met other requirements. That’s not the most sensible order of events, so the Service has made the decision to move eye tests to earlier in the application process.
“Deviating from the national eyesight standards themselves, which apply to all fire and rescue services, would be far more complex and we are not aware of any other fire service that has done so.
“Nonetheless, the service is pushing for a review of these national standards to ensure that on-call recruitment is as broad and inclusive as it possibly can be.”