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Friday, January 22, 2010

Summer placement at Lothian & Borders Fire Service

“You, come wi’ me, we’ll go cut the door offa car”
Like many final year MEng students I didn't know what I wanted to do after graduation; so when Prof. Torero asked me if I wanted to do a PhD in Fire Engineering I thought, why not?
The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea what “fire engineering” was, so to do a PhD in it seemed a bit far-fetched. I asked what I could do to bring me up to speed. The answer? “Well, you could join the Lothian & Borders Fire Service if you want…”
So in July 2009, a couple of months before I was due to start my PhD, I walked into the Fire HQ with Jonny (a first-year UoE student) to begin our internship. I was wearing a shirt and tie as instructed; I signed in, got a name badge and waited for Bob (the fire-fighter tasked with looking after us for the next 6 weeks).

“Tea?” he says (fire-fighters seem to run on tea). “No? Right let’s head down to the ship.” I was soon to find out that he was referring to the Fire Training Centre – so named for the big old metal ship sitting in the back yard. After another cup of tea and a safety brief, we were kitted out with equipment and breathing apparatus (BA). By 10am we were following an instructor through smoke-filled compartments. We spent the next week crawling around that ship through heat, smoke, dirt and water, watching the fire fighters at work and doing some fire fighting ourselves. It was awesome.
On day three we were sitting in on a fire safety lecture when the boss opened the door, pointed at the two of us and said: “You two! Come with me.” He then turned to the instructor giving the lecture and said: “They won’t be back.” The next thing you know we were fully geared up in BA, blindfolded and put through the “crawling cages” – a sort of pitch-black, claustrophobic assault course. A wee bitty mental, but otherwise great fun.
The internship allowed us to see every part of what the fire service do. We got to take part in fire investigation, public education and a water rescue (involving wetsuits, ropes, a fast-flowing river and of course, a BBQ). We were even driven down the runways of Edinburgh Airport in a £750,000 fire engine.
By far the best part of the internship was being “on the run” at Sighthill fire station (I don’t think I ever really got over the novelty of the pole). Every day we would be called out to incidents or get to try out a new piece of equipment, ranging from ladders to foam cannons to the jaws-of-life. I’ll never forget it when a fire-fighter turned to me and said: “you, come wi’ me, we’ll go cut the door off a car.”
If nothing else, my internship with the fire service gave me a story to tell; sure I got an introduction into the world of fire engineering, but more importantly I got to live out every 5-year-old schoolboy's dream - to be a fireman! It was awesome.

by Mike Woodrow, 1st year PhD student

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