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Firefighters from Coll and Oban have been recognised in the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours List.
On the Isle of Coll, fireman John Fraser, who joined the crew at Coll Volunteer Fire Station in July 1985, has been awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal.
The citation explains: ‘He is passionate about his local community, and it is this passion that has seen his Fire Service involvement continue for over 37 years. He showed exceptional leadership whilst in the deputy leader and leader positions, and was passionate about developing others to succeed him in later years.
‘He is well respected as a first-class officer of the highest calibre has displayed these attributes over many years at various incidents. He has the ability to get the best from people and used his skills to keep firefighters safe and deliver the best services to our local community.
‘He has dedicated his entire working life to both the Fire Service and the Coll community.’
The royal recognition has left John proud, but also keen to sing the praises of his crewmates. He said: ‘The first reaction I had when I heard the news was: ‘Why me?’.
‘Of course, I am very happy to have received it, but it was totally unexpected. When you receive the letter and open it, it’s difficult to describe the emotion that you feel. Nothing like this could have happened without the wider team. This award is for them as well as far as I’m concerned.’
While not responding to emergencies, John spent several years working for a charity which provides young people with international volunteering opportunities.
As far as John is concerned, stepping up to help others in their time of need is simply an important part of island life. This commitment to the safety of his home community could be seen during a large wildfire which engulfed large swathes of Coll in April 2021.
Reflecting on the incident, John said: ‘That was a huge fire. Sadly, the house where the fire began was destroyed. But we did manage to get the incident under control when it looked like the fire was heading into the village and threatening to affect other houses.’
John is due to retire from firefighter life next month. While he feels the time is right to step aside, he knows that doing so will mean bringing the curtain down on a significant part of his life.
He said: ‘I’ll miss it, but the time is right. We have been lucky to have had a great group over the years and I will miss the camaraderie during and after training. But I’ll still keep in touch. Living in a community like Coll, this kind of work is just a part of life. It’s just what you do.’
The Queen’s Fire Service Medal is also being awarded to crew commander Stevie Maybanks from Argyll, a firefighter who served in Oban and Lochgoilhead.
The citation says: ‘Stevie started her life as Steve, but she knew she was different from the age of four and felt she was ‘wrong’ from the age of 11. She also at that stage in her life decided she wanted to be a Royal Marine Commando, an ambition she achieved at the age of 17. She served over 13 years in the Marines.
‘She joined the Fire Service as a volunteer firefighter in her home village of Lochgoilhead, keen to serve her local community, she provided an emergency response to incidents as part of the local volunteer unit.
‘It was at this stage in her life she applied to become a wholetime firefighter with her first role being at Oban fire station and over a period of years in the service, she dealt with the significant challenges of transitioning her gender whilst working towards her promotion, firstly to crew commander, then into her instructor role, drawing on her background experience to train others in the service.
‘She worked at Clydebank Fire Station, one of the busiest stations in the service. Not only has she left a legacy and a long lasting positive impression on the staff within the Highland area by sharing her journey and experiences, she has influenced how the SFRS Equality and Diversity Team will consider and strengthen its support for trans issues in the future. She has recently retired from the service and continues to work tirelessly to make workplaces better based on her own experiences.’