If you can't stand the heat ..

14th August 2009 at 01:00
Pupils discover just how vital teamwork, communication and leadership can be, when they join the Buchan Fire Cadets

Fourteen-year-old Ivan Laverton is scarred from the burns he suffered while playing with a lighter as a toddler.

The Peterhead teenager has no memory of the accident, which burned him so badly he has needed skin grafts throughout his childhood. But it has left him determined to protect other children, and this evening Ivan is running up ladders with hoses, training with Buchan Fire Cadets at Peterhead.

"I played with a lighter when I was three. I've recovered and now I want to be a fireman," says Ivan, whose life hung in the balance when he suffered 90 per cent burns.

There's a chill wind coming off the North Sea as Ivan and another 10 teenagers train in the grounds of a fire station. They have joined from schools throughout the area and are kitted out in cadet firefighters' uniforms provided by Grampian fire and rescue service.

"It sounds like a good job and I'd prefer to be a fireman than anything else, because I want to prevent other people getting burned," says the pupil from Peterhead's Anna Ritchie School.

"It was my guidance teacher in Aberdeen who signed me up for it," says Ivan, who transferred to the Buchan cadets unit from the Aberdeen unit when his family moved here last year.

"I like that we get to use all the fire gear and we get to use the hoses and all that kind of stuff. The best bit is using breathing apparatus, because you really feel like a fireman in a fire and it's fun."

Peterhead fire station manager Denis Beedie says the unit is not intended for recruitment. "There is no doubt some of them will end up in the fire service either retained - which is like part-time - or full-time, but that's not the main purpose of the cadets. The purpose of this is to give them experience of teamwork, communication, leadership and social responsibility.

"We have had kids come in here who are scared to climb a ladder, but after a few weeks - once they've had a wee shot at it - they're coming up and down quite easily."

There's only one girl in the Buchan cadet unit - 15-year-old Melissa Aiken from fifth year at Ellon Academy. She joined two years ago and is passionate about becoming a firefighter.

Melissa peers up from under her shiny yellow helmet at cadets practising with a hose high up in the training tower. "I love all of it," she says with a wide smile.

"Not knots and lines, though, because they are a nightmare," she laughs. "That's tying off the ladder and tying knots for keeping up the hoses and everything. It's still good fun trying to do them, though, because everyone gets a laugh if you can't do it.

"I want to do this for a career, so I thought if I joined here I'd get an insight into what it's actually like - just to get a good idea of what it's all about, to see if it's what I really want to do."

Melissa, who is one of three crew managers and in charge of Blue Watch, seems to have no difficulty ordering the boys about. "They just do what they're told," she grins.

Teenagers must be 18 before they apply to join the service - "as long as you're fit for all the running about. And you need English, maths and I think a science as well," Melissa says.

Her girlfriends are very impressed, she adds: "They're quite chuffed actually, because most of them are really girly and they think it's great one of us is doing this."

It is hoped some of these youngsters will take part in a peer-education project with primary school pupils this term.

"We have got a problem in some parts of Peterhead with nuisance fires and it's young kids that are starting the fires off," explains Peterhead Fire Station manager Denis Beedie.

"Aberdeenshire Council youth workers, with whom I work quite closely, assure me that primary school pupils will absorb information far more readily from someone closer to their own age than they will from the likes of you and me.

"Two cadets have volunteered to do this now. So the idea is we get them trained up to the standard where they can go and deliver this input and they will go into the primary schools and deliver it to the kids in there," says Mr Beedie.

Cadet co-ordinator Gary Collins, a serving firefighter, says youngsters don't work with real fire and all training is modified to suit their age and experience. "Most of the kids here come in quiet, they're a bit shy and they won't touch any pieces of equipment and they won't do anything without being told.

"By the time they leave, they are very, very good academically and they really come out of their shell."

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