A young person has told how he is helping to change views of a “tearaway youth culture” in Scotland – by volunteering with the national fire and rescue service.
Oliver McKenzie spoke movingly about his commitment to helping others as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service launched its new Youth Volunteer Scheme on Wednesday, February 19.
The 15-year-old was just one of more than 80 young people from across the country who gathered at the Service’s National Training Centre in Cambuslang to mark the initiative which was formally launched by Community Safety Minister Ash Denham and SFRS Chief Officer Martin Blunden.
Previous SFRS volunteer schemes have seen young people representing Scotland at UK-wide competitions – and even standing shoulder to shoulder with royalty.
Oliver, who is based at Helensburgh Community Fire station, said: “Being part of the programme has taught me how to talk to and help members of the community, and it lets them see that not all children are up to no good and being tearaways.
“It feels good to go along to events and be out and about in the community and wear the Service crest with pride because you know you’re part of something.”
He added: “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was two or three years old, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.
“I will be 18 when the Youth Volunteer Scheme finishes, then I would like to apply to the fire service or become a special constable with the Police.
“Being part of this has allowed me to push myself, to learn new skills and follow instructions. I think this will help me find a good job when I turn 18.”
The Youth Volunteer Scheme is currently operational in Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Campbeltown and Kilmarnock. Stations in Tobermory, Peterhead, Wick, Alloa and Methil will also participate in the initiative over the coming months.
It is open to teenagers aged between 12 and 18 and developed around a three-phase programme, designed to deepen and broaden knowledge, skills, competence and confidence.
Volunteer Isla Overend even found herself rubbing shoulders with HRH the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.
Dumbarton based Isla, who was crowned Young Firefighter of the Year in 2018 and 2019, said: “I would say my pinnacle moment was when I was chosen as the Scottish Firefighter Cadet representative at Prince Charles’ 70th birthday garden party celebrations at Buckingham Palace, the week after Harry and Meghan’s wedding – and literally stood feet away from them.”
Isla rose quickly through the ranks in her unit to become a Watch Commander – and now has a SFRS support job, while continuing her higher education studies for a degree in Health Science.
She continued: “I have no doubt in my mind that had I not been part of this scheme, I wouldn’t have had the confidence, experiences, determination, skills and knowledge to choose what is thought of as a leap of faith – especially as my guidance teacher told me I was capable of more when I told her I was leaving school and not returning in 6th year.”
Deputy Assistant Chief Officer John Miller is the strategic lead for the Youth Volunteer Scheme.
He said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for young people across Scotland to develop their skillset and make a valuable contribution to their local communities.
“The Youth Volunteer Scheme is not about recruiting future firefighters and we cannot guarantee any young person further employment or involvement with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
“What we can guarantee is that we will offer as much support and guidance as possible to young people with an interest in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and anyone who participates in this scheme will grow in confidence and be equipped with improved life skills.”
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “I was very pleased to have the opportunity to join with service personnel and the fantastic young volunteers for the launch of the SFRS Youth Volunteer Scheme.
“We all have a part to play in making our communities safer and this initiative provides an excellent opportunity to engage with our young people and promote the behaviour and skills that can improve the safety of the people of Scotland. It will also help develop the overall confidence and life skills of the volunteers involved.”
If you are interested in participating in the Youth Volunteer Scheme contact [email protected]