Friday Night Lights: a Community Fire Service

Content

The effects of antisocial behaviour are felt by all areas of our communities. When a team of Salford firefighters experienced it in their own neighbourhood, they didn’t leave it to someone else to solve, they set out trying to help get to the cause of the problems and provide more than just a community fire service.

A Community Fire Service

In 2010 underage drinking, intimidation and violent attacks were amongst the types of antisocial behaviour that the community in Prince’s Park, Salford and the firefighters from Irlam and Cadishead Fire Station living nearby, regularly experienced from groups of young people on Friday nights.

“Where we firefighters live on Prince’s Park, we could see the antisocial behaviour first hand. Groups of youngsters would be walking past houses and onto the park at night, sometimes they were so inebriated they couldn’t even walk and their friends were dragging them along.

“On one occasion it led to a firefighter being seriously beaten up by a group of 15 or so youths. When you’re in your own home and you can hear this going on it makes you feel scared for your family. As parents and as a group, we firefighters wanted to see what the Fire Service could do to help. We wanted to be involved to try and reduce the problems we were having so the whole community would benefit.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

Reaching out

In 2010, Dave Pike started volunteering in his role as a firefighter at the local youth service with the youth work teams, to build on what was already there. He wanted to find ways to try and tackle the problems that their community was facing.

With the help of some of the Fire Service volunteers, one of the first things he did was to introduce ‘cage soccer’ units – moveable football pitches – outside the fire station on Princes Park every Friday night as a distraction based activity. It proved to be an immediate success.

“The thinking was simple: teenage boys would come along and play football and the girls would watch. It would also provide the Fire Service and the youth workers with an opportunity to interact with the young people to try and understand what was going on and put them off underage drinking.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

A visible change

The cage soccer units were a great success, helping to reduce reports of antisocial behaviour in the area by 40%.

“The reduction in reports was great but because we live on the park and in the community ourselves, we could see the effect the reduction was happening.

“We could see a change in attitudes and behaviours for the young people on the park and in our community. It was fantastic to see that the ideas we were introducing had made a visible impact and improvement.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

Salford's Prince's Park is the home to caged soccer units

Caged soccer units in action on Prince’s Park

Multi-agency co-operation

The success of the cage soccer nights drew interest and support from a range of other community service providers. Soon, this work became the basis of a much larger multi-agency project, bringing together more services to work in partnership and help tackle the issues being experienced by the community.

Salford City Council, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Health Improvement Teams and Brook Advisory Teams all collaborated to build on those initial achievements. This early success helped the Fire Service in Irlam and Cadishead to realise the impact that they could have on their community by working together.

“Now at the end of every half term, those same agencies come together and we look at what we need to do to make sure antisocial behaviour doesn’t creep back up. We still use the cage soccer units as a distraction, dropping them into areas we think they are going to most needed. It’s no longer just the lads playing either, everyone is taking part.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

Developing young people: a new perspective

It’s not all about football though. The improvements they saw in behaviour as a result of their interventions resulted in a change in mindset for the Fire Service. They now realised the untapped potential of the young people in their local area, and the valuable contributions they could make to the local community.

“It made us realise, and perhaps remember, what it’s like to be a youngster. Our young people are a really important part of our local communities and as a Fire Service we wanted to give them something back, not blame them for what was happening. To do this, we set-up a Fire Cadet scheme, based here at our fire station.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

Led by fire fighter Lewis Jeffery, the scheme involves a Fire Cadet Unit training at the fire station once a week.

“It’s a two year course for young people to come to the fire station and learn about the work the Fire Service does. After the two years cadets have a BTEC Level 2 in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community and the ASDAN Fire and Rescue Short Course qualifications, and a much better understanding of our work.

“We also teach them how to make friends in the community, learn how to be more social with others and not just their peer group. It’s been amazing to see how well the youngsters have responded and we can almost guarantee that a few of them will end up as firefighters of the future.”

Lewis Jeffery, Firefighter, Blue Watch

The 2 year cadet course teaches about the Fire and Rescue Services and how to make friends in the community

The 2 year cadet course teaches about the Fire and Rescue Services and how to make friends in the community

Widening the vision: a whole community approach

The team know that the cadet scheme isn’t for everyone. In summer 2015, they opened a climbing wall at the station, not just for young people, this is for the whole community to use free of charge to improve everyone’s health and wellbeing.

To date, over 600 young people have used the climbing wall, and plans are in place to integrate it into local primary and secondary schools PE curriculums, as well as offering sessions to the whole community.

In 2013 the station started working with Incredible Edible Salford to build a vegetable plot outside the front of the station.

“It was a real opportunity for us to do something very different. Now when you open the doors in the morning you see people coming along picking onions, vegetables and lettuce at the front of the fire station.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

Growing onions in an old fireperson's helmet

Growing onions in an old fireperson’s helmet

All of these activities are now driving change at a local level, and enabling community involvement and
improving the way of life for people living locally.

A vital hub for the whole community

Now, the station isn’t just a place for the Fire Service, it’s home to the Ambulance Service and the Police. With a busy community room and a gym now nearing completion, the fire station is a vital physical hub of the local community.

“Over the last five years we’ve grown as firefighters to understand that being closely integrated with your community is the way to be. This is the future. The more we can offer services to the community and really embed ourselves in with them the better it is for everybody. Our projects with young people have shown this.”

Dave Pike, Firefighter, Blue Watch

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