Friday, 4 February 2011

The Fire Section Part 2

When RAF Saxa Vord opened there were few vehicles on Unst and the Emergency Services hardly existed. There was a Doctor and a Nurse but fire fighting was of the self-help variety. The fact that there wasn’t a policeman based on the island for many years did not go unnoticed – should a policeman board the ferry at Gutcher in Yell the message went around Unst far quicker than it could on most modern social networking internet sites.
Right from the start the RAF Fire Section provided a service for the civilian population, subject always to service priorities. With the opening of the Unst Airstrip some civilian fire services were provided and from about 1985 a civilian retained service commenced. However, the RAF continued to provide a back-up service - this had to be on a formal basis with an agreement between the RAF and The Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade.
At one stage it was necessary for the CO to contact the press to remind the public to call 999 rather than calling the camp direct – see the copies of 2 press articles below:-

I have attempted to keep the articles and pictures below in a chronological sequence. The first picture is the property of Mike McEwan who published it on the "Service Pals" website some years ago, I have tried to contact him but so far without success, (thanks to Bob Jenner for locating this picture)
The following shot is of the Ground Defence and Fire Section on the Domestic Site taken about 1963 by John Courtis.
The next picture was taken in 1965 or 1966 – the CO, Sqn Ldr Stevens an be seen on the right of the picture and the presence of an AVM (with his back to the camera) suggests this is part of an AOCs Inspection.
The next 2 pictures are copies of Shetland Times articles from 1970. Sgt Fred Canham, mentioned in one of the articles, must have spent a fair time at Saxa. He was there during my tour (67 to 69). He was one of the few people on camp with his own motor car, a Vauxhall as I remember it. This was in the days before RoRo ferries so his car would have had to made the trip from Aberdeen on the St Clair and on the Earl of Zetland – it would have had to have been lifted onto both vessels using derricks. The reason this all sticks in my mind is that he would hire his car out at ten shillings a time! I was courting at the time and made use of this facility on more than one occasion. In true Shetland fashion, keys and remuneration were to be left under the drivers mat. (If you read this Fred – I hope there’s no problem with the Tax Man after 40 years!)
The AOC in C Strike Command Air Chief Marsha Sir Andrew Humphrey paid a visit to the Unit in 1972, flying in and out of the Unst Airstrip in and RAF Pembroke:

On 19 Jan 72 a significant fire broke out at Hillsgarth, Baltasound. Hillsgarth, usually  known as “Muttigarth” to Unst folk, is situated in the area of the Baltasound School and the GPs surgery. The property consisted of 2 dwellings, both taken on as hirings by the RAF. Fortunately no one was injured during the fire but extensive damage was done to the property. One of the families was rehoused on the Unit, the other, possibly near tourex, was posted to RAF Finningley. There is a note in the station F540 that one of the families received £300 from the RAF Benevolent Fund, partly as a grant and partly as a loan – not very much in todays terms but probably nearly 6 months salary after deductions for an airman in 72. The 3 pictures below were taken at the time of the incident. The CO, Sqn Ldr Woolston, is fourth from the left in the third picture.
The next 6 pictures are copies of arctcles on the press relating to a nomber of incidents.
The Fire Section were very heavily involved in the clear-up operations after the big storm a New Year 1991/92.
RAF fire support for the community continued for the life of the Unit. The last article I have is reproduced below:

Links to a few more pieces in the blog about the Saxa Fire Section here: