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A Gay in the Life Of – Neil J R Pearson

“Today is also different as it is the first time I meet my new Watch Commander, and in a pleasant change from the last one he seems instantly personable, polite, symmetrical, not at all condescending..”

0700? Already? You have to be joking me.

My day starts with the usual mix of domestic ablutions, the traumatic separation from my bed and the genuine wonder of what the actual fuck the day is going to throw at me. Today the sense of separation is worse, as after a period of annual leave, I am back on duty for the first time in 20 days.

It’s almost eight years to the day since I walked into MacDonald Road Fire Station as a day one recruit. Sometimes that feels like a lifetime ago, sometimes as if it were only yesterday.

Station life begins as usual with guttural half-asleep hellos, the checking of equipment, the signing of log books and the all important cup of tea. Today is also different as it is the first time I meet my new Watch Commander, and in a pleasant change from the last one he seems instantly personable, polite, symmetrical, not at all condescending and above all very comfortable on dry land and doesn’t sift tonnes of krill and plankton with each mouthful.


0800: Parade. At this point we are informed (as if we didn’t already know) what are duties are for that day. I am driving the ISU (Incident Support Vehicle – or ISsUe – or Juice Lorry). Unknown to me we are heading down to the training facility at Fillyside for our bi-annual ‘real fire’ Breathing Apparatus training.

Thanks for the warning. Just as well I pack a spare set of underwear, socks etc everyday as a matter of course. (This is because, although we are all human and accidents can happen to anyone, I go to the gym a lot).

The training centre is basically five 40foot cargo containers welded together and fitted out with doors, chamber, various exits and no windows so that it can resemble a two storey house, garage, nightclub or whatever for training purposes. It’s also metal so that when the support team go in and pack it with  wooden logs, pallets etc then set the thing on fire, they don’t actually set the thing on fire.

There are a couple of short lectures detailing minor changes in procedures and the reasons for same before we head out to get our protective gear and BA sets on. This also affords the ground crew enough time to ensure the whole structure is hot enough to roast a chicken in. Literally.

The scenario is that a two-floor masionette is alight and the fire is in the basement. This means that when the first team goes in to fight the fire, they have to descend the stairs against the rising heat to get to it. Who is that first team? Me and a Crew Commander? Why thank you. (We always go in teams of at least two as this, like not running with scissors, is for safety reasons).

It’s hot, dark and smoky (what? A fire? REALLY?) and we have to drag a hose with us. We find the stairs, descend, and at the end of a corridor we see what firemen will somewhat melodramatically call ‘The Beast’.  BTW, it’s REALLY hot, so when we ( I say ‘we’, the Commander had the business end of the hose, I was basically a well dressed pack-horse) attempt to extinguish the fire, the resulting steam turns the scarce visibility to zero and the heat intensifies. The fire out, we start a search, find a ‘casualty simulator’ (They are not allowed to be called ‘dummies’ as too many people thought we were referring to headquarters hahahahahaha – and so forth) and then have to retrace our steps to get out of the structure before we run out of air. Further teams are deployed and three other ‘people’ are ‘rescued’. At the end of this session the ground crew complain that it “wasn’t very hot” as it only peaked at 550 degrees.


After a day of such scenarios, ‘The Beast’ well and truly fought, and lots of gratefully inanimate persons rescued, everyone agrees its time to call it a day and head back to the station for tea and medals. Lots of tea.

1730: My Red Watch relief arrives early, I hand over all relevant information, get changed and wander the mercifully short (but all uphill) distance to home. On a normal day this would be celebrated by a nice cold beer or two; but today lying on the sofa whimpering softly seems more appropriate.

I wonder, thought Bagpuss, what adventures will befall me tomorrow…..

Neil J.R.Pearson

Fireman, Visionary and all round Good-Egg.


Categories: A Gay in the Life Bisexual Edinburgh Equality Fireman Gay Homosexual Icon Lesbian LGBT News Opinion Role Models Scotland Transgender Work


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