Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Fire Section Part 3

A number of photos and cuttings have been gathered together to form this section and I have tried to put them into a logical sequence. The first part deals with the Domestic Site and a few local incidents. This is followed by a smaller section on the Top Site and then there is a final Endex piece.

Domestic Site & Local Incidents.
The Fire Section was located on the Domestic Site from startex until 1975 and then from 1995 until closure. I’m grateful to John Stott, Saxa 1974/5, who has allowed me to use the first 2 photos.
In his own words John describes the picture above: “A Firefly in RAF service pictured at RAF Saxa Vord in 1974. A climax 650 gpm fitted with 100 galls water. 35 & 15 foot ladders carried, 4 lengths of hard suction, 18 lengths delivery & tubing, FMB 5 and 2 CABA. Chimney gear and assorted small gear also carried with a crew of 4. The machine covered RAF Installations and provided cover for the islands civil population.”

The next was taken at the Unst Airstrip.
John mentions one of the lesser known tasks which fell to the Fire section in this era: “Aeromeds were a big part of work. We would light goosenecks at night for Loganairs Islander to land. We usually knew beforehand so a scratch crew was put together. My log shows I did eight in four years including a pure RAF one in 1975 where an Andover landed! Hairy that one :)”

The next few pictures and cuttings relate to incidents on Unst which involved the RAF Fire Section.
The incident above illustrates a problem which was not unusual in Unst - the accessibility of mains water supply – the extract from a 1983 report below goes into a little more detail:

The next 2 items are extracts from the Shetland Times of 16 Dec 83, which described the locations of and Fire Service facilities available in Shetland at the time.
The last clipping in this section is from the Shetland Times dated 16 Jun 89 where there were 2 short pieces which referred to the RAF Fire Section.
The next photo, taken in 1986, is of the old MT Section. The reason for the inclusion of the picture is the Firefly in the background (centre, right).
The Fire Section relocated to a Portacabin, behind the Ice Cap, next to the Penguin Club and the Community Centre. The vehicles were kept in MTSS (Mechanical Transport & Supply Section), which is just behind the green Portacabin in the following photo
The next 2 photos are of the newer MTSS. Judging by the amount of activity, the first picture was taken soon after the move, whilst the second looks like it was shot during the run-down phase.
Top Site

The Building which the Fire Section occupied just outside the Ops Site gate was built in 1974, with the Section moving in the following year. The earliest picture I have of it was taken in Jul 77:

The next photo, taken in 1983, shows the front of the building.
The Section remained operational from this site for 20 years, moving back to the Domestic site in 1995. I understand that the location, just outside the perimeter fence, resulted in a lot more contact with tourists that the rest of the personnel “up the hill”

The Storms of New Year 91/92 brought extra work to many, including the Fire Section. The first of the 2 following photos shows the Top Site just after the gales (Fire Section on the left) and the second shows part of the clear-up operation.
Endex and Beyond

Like the rest of the Unit, it wasn’t a sudden end. At the end of the 90’s the number of personnel at Saxa was reduced considerably with the change of role to a Remote Reporting Post. A few years later the closure of RAF Buchan lead to an expansion and the reversal to independent Unit status. Not long afterwards it was decided to close the Station all together. This led to stupidities like those described in the Shetland Times article from 16 Mar 01, which is copied below – anyone want to buy a Fire Tender to take home for less that £100!
The Fire Section were there when the Nimrod fly past and final lowering of the RAF Ensign marked the end of an era which, if you include the construction phase, lasted more than half a century. The 2 pictures below belong to the last CO and were taken on 1 Mar 2006 – the second picture is an enlargement from the first.
The Fire Section at the Top Site still stands empty and will no doubt deteriorate further over the years in the Shetland climate. Just after closure in 2006 the building looked like this:
By the winter of 2009/10 it was looking pretty desolate:
In the last photo I have of it (May 2012) the building is beginning to show a little bit of wear:
For those of you who look for happy endings I can only offer my final picture in the section. Last month (Apr 2012) part of MTSS reopened fulfilling a major social need!


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

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