Lothian service scheme graduate returns as mentor

ONE of the first graduates of a programme designed to teach youngsters to respect the fire service has returned as an instructor.

Liam Brown was 13 when he was taught firefighting skills like hose running, ladder climbing, fire safety and first aid, as part of the 
Phoenix Project run by Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service.

Now 20, Liam has gone back to become a mentor on the scheme which forms part of the service’s community engagement work designed to cut attacks on firefighters.

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There were 41 recorded incidents this year including a spate on Bonfire Night where youths armed with fireworks attacked a crew as they attended a blaze in the north-west of the city.

Liam, who took part in the weekly scheme during term time at Gracemount High School, has started meeting with youngsters takinig part in the project at Liberton fire station. He said: “I’d always been interested in the fire service since I was young so when I was offered the opportunity to do this I jumped at it.

“It has done so much for me. A lot of people get different things out of it, but I feel I got more confident and gained some leadership skills that have really helped me. I’m still good friends with a lot of the guys that had a few problems in Leith, but the programme guided them away from those problems. If it wasn’t for that then they could be very different to what they are today.”

The project, which started seven years ago, is now being rolled out at Livingston, Liberton and Dalkeith fire stations with 100 teenagers already having honed their skills.

It targets youths, aged 13 to 18, who may have been referred to it as part of community outreach to stop antisocial behaviour, or those like Liam who had always had an interest in the fire service.

Volunteer firefighters have a go at everything from climbing the ladders to rescuing someone from a mock smoke-filled building.

Firefighter Jim Young, who has been in the fire service for nearly ten years and involved in the Phoenix project for five, said it was an important part of community work.

“I thought the youth work was a great idea and I have always enjoyed working with young people so had to get involved. I quickly saw the potential in the project and with the young people, the smallest things can make the biggest difference and they never stop impressing me.

“It’s very rewarding and a great opportunity for anyone joining.”

Liam’s involvement in the project, which is part funded by local authorities in Edinburgh, West Lothian and Midlothian, was responsible for what he calls his biggest achievement to date.

He was nominated by his boss at McDonald’s, where he now works as a manager, to be an Olympic torchbearer in Scotland this summer.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life and I’d never have been able to do it without the Phoenix programme. Now I’m mentoring some of the younger guys, it’s probably one of the best things in the world to be involved in.

“It’s a great feeling to be working with them and them see you as a positive role model. I think it should run in every fire station.”

Anyone interested in applying for the project should call 0131-659 7321.