Friday 9 February 2018  Issue No 2272



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Thanks to everyone involved in donating well-loved hand sewing machines, cottons, spools and material for this project.

Thanks also to those behind the scenes who made keys and mended boxes.

                                                        Mike 500x246

SOS hosted us last Tuesday and we had a very busy morning cleaning, polishing and trying out the machines.

I suspect some people were surprised how well they remembered how to thread up a machine.

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Thanks to John Lavelle for providing postcards of Ullapool so we could send messages of goodwill to the Rohinga people in the camp and to Julie and Ian for help with technology and moving the machines.

Russell arrived just at the right time from Elphin to give the machine owned by Bridie's mother and to take some lovely photographs which will also be sent.

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John Menzies has offered to transport the machines to Newcastle and the Bangladeshi group there will arrange their onward transport.

I have enjoyed being part of this project, working with Gill Wilson from New Broom and have witnessed, once again, the enthusiasm and generosity of the different groups of Ullapool working together. 

Thank you. Jill Beavitt

Pics courtesy Russell Pursey

History of the Fire Service in Coigach

Prior to 1973 there was no fire cover locally in Coigach. There were a few chimney fires and the availability of fit and young labour working at the Salmon Fishings had resulted in the boys helping out at the odd chimney fire. The traditional way to put it out was to stuff a wet bag into the bottom of the chimney and thus deprive the fire in the flue of oxygen and hopefully it would go out.

In the autumn of 1971 a serious house fire occurred at Blairbuie involving the extension at the east end of the main building. I took a portable pump that we had for net cleaning and went down to Blairbuie. The end building was well alight and our little pump was obviously of little use. I asked if anyone had called out the Fire Brigade and it was suggested as they were in Ullapool it was too far for them to come. I went into the house phoned the Ullapool Exchange which was also the emergency number in those days and asked for the Fire Brigade. About an hour later the appliance arrived with Leading Fireman T Rae (Totty) in charge. And after some fairly hard work the fire was out just in time as the flames were just beginning to get into the roof space of the main house.

Around the time of this incident the R&C County Council was putting a water main in Coigach and I had been in contact with then Northern Area Fire Brigade (NAFB) about a year before the Blairbuie fire asking about the provision of fire hydrants and asking if they would give or lend us a portable pump and some hose that we might use if we were asked to help at one of these fore mentioned chimney fires. Following the Blairbuie fire, support from councillors must have been successful and some months later I received a letter from the Fire Board along the lines of ; They would be establishing a Volunteer Fire Unit in Achiltibuie in 1973 and a Senior Officer would meet with the locals and set up a simple first aid fire fighting unit, providing a crew could be found in the parish.

The meeting took place on the 31 January 1973 and the Unit was officially set up on the 1 February 1973 with 11 local folk coming forward to provide the Crew.

Alastair Armitstead, Robert Irvine, Calum Macdonald, Hector Mackenzie, Donnie Mackenzie, Gilles Maclennan, Jim Muir, Boysie Sinclair, Rob Tweddle, Ali Macleod, & Lyon White.

On the 1 February the Unit went live or in FB parlance went on the run and after a democratic vote I was put in charge as what was then called a Leading Fireman. Some 8 years later the officers in charge of the 90 Volunteer Stations in the Brigade were all promoted to Sub Officer and a Leading Fireman appointed as their deputy. That job went to Jim Muir.

No females in the Brigades in those days apart from Control Room staff and civilian admin staff.  Our Pay Rate in 1973 was 70p per hour and training was two 2 hour sessions a year.

Some 40 years later it is worth noting that Donnie Mackenzie’s son Donnie is one of the Crew Managers of the current crew, while Ali Macleod is the other. Ali is the last of the original members still involved but has not served continuously having left the original crew to go to sea in the Merchant Navy and rejoined the FB in May 1981 when he came home. I retired in February 2003 with 30 years service and Stuart Edwards was promoted from Leading Fireman to Sub Officer in charge on that date. He still runs the Station but under the new system of Roles rather than rank is a Watch Manager.

There are nearly 50 names on the roll of those who have served the parish over the years that is displayed in the Station.

The first “Station” was a small wooden shed with hoses and a pump and some other items which was located to the East of the Summer Isles Hotel. In 1978 this was moved to the rear of the Roads Depot then in 1984 when we were one of the first three volunteer stations upgraded to a “mobile unit status” moving to a Wooden Garage in Polbain where we kept our first proper fire appliance,  properly called an Ultra Light Fire Appliance.

This Ford Van attended over 100 call outs while in service with us before it too was replaced and we moved again. This time into the Roads Depot in 1997 where we housed various larger vans classed as Light Fire Appliances until we were one of the fortunate stations to be upgraded again.

The next move in August 2002 was into the current station, a purpose built facility where a succession of machines have been kept with the current appliance, a full size Water Tender Ladder. Its proper title indicating it carries both water and a large extending ladder.

Over the years the Brigade has had various titles:

From 1973 to 1975 Northern Area Fire Brigade, 1975 to 1983 Northern Fire Brigade, 1983 to 2005 Highland and Islands Fire Brigade, 2005 to 2013 Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service.  The Scottish Government changes in 2013  resulted in one Brigade for the whole of Scotland to be called the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Academic NOTE!! It was Highland in the singular from 1983/2005 then plural for the next 8 years. None of us know why it was so. But you were forcibly reminded and corrected when the title was in the singular if you inadvertently called it “Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade”!

Diana Wilding was the very first female fire fighter in the Achiltibuie Crew joining in April 2001 but has now retired. Currently the Achiltibuie Crew has no female members but I know Stuart Edwards will welcome recruits of either gender, and the Station needs to keep up its numbers to maintain the viability of the Achiltibuie Crew.

Currently across virtually the whole of the Highlands stations are struggling to stay open due to shortage of folk coming forward to join. The centralised Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has no mercy or sympathy or sentimentality if a community cannot provide enough recruits to maintain crew numbers.  The SFRS will close stations which saves them money and SFRS will stand back and blame the community for not putting forward recruits.

Hopefully in another five years we will be marking a half century of fire cover in Coigach.

A Armitstead.