Firefighters handle the bonfire heat

'CONTROL, we need police assistance. Missiles are being thrown at the engine by a group of youths. Fireworks as well."

The call comes in a static burst over the radio, relaying to every firefighter in the Lothians the news that yet again one of their crews has come under attack from local youths. It's not the first time, and sadly it is unlikely to be the last.

As firefighters race from one blaze to the next, it is an unwelcome reminder – as if any were really needed – that they could face the same treatment at any one of the numerous calls they respond to tonight.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The crew under attack are attending an unsupervised bonfire in West Pilton Crescent, when the yobs decide to start hurling rocks, fireworks and abuse at them.

They will be forced to withdraw and wait until the police have moved in to clear away the troublemakers before they can do their job. Fortunately no one is injured, but the incident wastes time they cannot afford to waste on the busiest night of the year.

Welcome to Bonfire Night.

Just an hour earlier, outside Sighthill Fire Station, groups of youngsters are setting off fireworks across the estate, the bangs echoing around the dark buildings.

Some are set off from youngsters' hands, others are fired at parked cars, or one of the empty high rise buildings which tower over the area. Smoke from the explosions drifts across the otherwise deserted area, briefly lit up by bursts of pink or green as more fireworks are unleashed.

Inside, crews from Blue Watch pack up for the evening, while Green Watch gear up to start their shift, on what is always the busiest night of the year.

Last year, fire crews across the city had to deal with a record number of call outs across the city, with the control room in Tollcross taking 826 calls over the course of the evening. On an average night they would expect less than 100.

They barely have time to get into the station before the sirens ring out, and they are sent to a large fire in the grounds of Corstorphine Rugby Club.

Tearing through traffic they arrive in just a few minutes, to find the bonfire raging in the middle of the open parkland, with a group of at least 100 youngsters gathered around it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The firefighters are quickly mobbed by the youths, but while the atmosphere may seem intimidating these youngsters are just high-spirited, and as the bonfire appears to be supervised, the Brigade do not extinguish it.

"We will get dozens of call like this tonight", admits Mike. "There is no problem here, as there are adults looking after the fire, but you can see how this situation could get out of hand, because if we were to try and put it out the kids could get aggressive."

Back in the engine, the chatter of the radio is almost constant. It is just after 7.30pm, and for the next three hours there will be little let up in the incidents.

The control centre at Tollcross Fire Station, is a hive of activity throughout the night, with 11 staff looking after the entire Lothian and Borders area.

They take hundreds of calls from the public, passing them on to crews and trying to juggle their limited resources to cover every event.

Across the city, engines are being scrambled to fires, mostly bonfires in small closes or public parks reported by concerned residents.

One such call leads to the Sighthill team responding to reports of a tree set alight at Clovenstone Park, close to the primary school.

This turns out to be a false alarm, another waste of valuable time on an evening when resources are stretched to the limit, and it is reported as malicious.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The call has come from an area just next to the station, so it's possible it was someone who wanted to see the fire engine rush out," says Mike. "It's another big problem for us, as obviously it takes us out of the loop to deal with actual fires.

On the way back to the station, the calls continue to flood in. At around 8.20pm, the call comes over the radio about the attack on the crew in West Pilton Gardens.

Mike admits he is not surprised by the attack, but says it does play on the morale of the crews.

"Disappointment is the biggest feeling firefighters have at these incidents," he said. "We are not trying to spoil anyones fun and we won't put out a bonfire if it is properly supervised, but to come under attack for doing your job is ridiculous.

As the night continues the crews are able to grab just a few minutes back at the station - barely time to make a cup of tea and enjoy a slice of the free pizzas provided for crews across the city as a Bonfire Night treat.

By 10.30pm, the calls are beginning to die down.

They know they will be called out again tonight, but this year at least, Bonfire Night has passed off without any major incident.

Related topics: