A TEENAGER from Helensburgh has told how he is helping to change views of a “tearaway youth culture” in Scotland – by volunteering with the national fire and rescue service.

Oliver McKenzie spoke movingly about his commitment to helping others as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) launched its new Youth Volunteer Scheme on Wednesday.

The 15-year-old is part of the YVS scheme in Helensburgh – one of four community fire stations in Scotland where the project is already operational.

Oliver was just one of more than 80 young people from across the country who gathered at the service’s national training centre in Cambuslang to mark the formal launch of the initiative by community safety minister Ash Denham and SFRS chief officer Martin Blunden.

Previous SFRS volunteer schemes have seen young people representing Scotland at UK-wide competitions - and even standing shoulder to shoulder with royalty.

READ MORE: Helensburgh's Young Firefighters are picking up vital life skills

Oliver, who is based at Helensburgh's community fire station, said: “Being part of the programme has taught me how to talk to and help members of the community, and it lets them see that not all children are up to no good and being tearaways.

“It feels good to go along to events and be out and about in the community and wear the service crest with pride because you know you’re part of something.”

He added: “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was two or three years old, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.

“I will be 18 when the Youth Volunteer Scheme finishes, then I would like to apply to the fire service or become a special constable with the police.

“Being part of this has allowed me to push myself, to learn new skills and follow instructions.

“I think this will help me find a good job when I turn 18.”

READ MORE: Youth firefighter spreads message on the European stage

The Youth Volunteer Scheme is currently operational in Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Campbeltown and Kilmarnock; stations in Tobermory, Peterhead, Wick, Alloa and Methil will also participate in the initiative over the coming months.

It is open to teenagers aged between 12 and 18 and is developed around a three-phase programme, designed to deepen and broaden knowledge, skills, competence and confidence.

The scheme in Helensburgh has been running since the summer of 2017, when it was known as ‘Young Firefighters’.

Similar to youth schemes such as the Army Cadets, the Sea Cadets and the Police Scotland Youth Volunteers, all of whom have a presence in Helensburgh, the SFRS initiative was established with the aim not of training up the next generation of new recruits to the service, but to teach young people vital life skills as well as instilling in them a sense of community and citizenship.

And while the scheme is not about bringing on the next generation of firefighters, the SFRS has drawn new recruits from the Young Firefighters’ ranks – including Helensburgh’s Lewis Clark, who joined his home town crew in April 2019 after enrolling as a Young Firefighter at the age of 14.

Volunteer Isla Overend even found herself rubbing shoulders with HRH the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

READ MORE: Helensburgh firefighter realises his dream by joining home town crew

Dumbarton based Isla, who was crowned Young Firefighter of the Year in 2018 and 2019, said: “I would say my pinnacle moment was when I was chosen as the Scottish Firefighter Cadet representative at Prince Charles’ 70th birthday garden party celebrations at Buckingham Palace, the week after Harry and Meghan’s wedding - and literally stood feet away from them.”

Isla rose quickly through the ranks in her unit to become a Watch Commander - and now has a SFRS support job, while continuing her higher education studies for a degree in Health Science.

She continued: "I have no doubt in my mind that had I not been part of this scheme, which is now proudly known as Young Volunteer Scheme I wouldn’t have had the confidence, experiences, determination, skills and knowledge to choose what is thought of as a leap of faith - especially as people at school told me I was capable of more when I told them I was not returning for 6th year." 

Deputy assistant chief officer John Miller, the strategic lead for the Youth Volunteer Scheme, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for young people across Scotland to develop their skillset and make a valuable contribution to their local communities.

“The Youth Volunteer Scheme is not about recruiting future firefighters and we cannot guarantee any young person further employment or involvement with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

“What we can guarantee is that we will offer as much support and guidance as possible to young people with an interest in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and anyone who participates in this scheme will grow in confidence and be equipped with improved life skills.”

LATEST HEADLINES: Council slammed for 'lack of transparency' over Duchess Wood's closure

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “I was very pleased to have the opportunity to join with service personnel and the fantastic young volunteers for the launch of the SFRS Youth Volunteer Scheme.

“We all have a part to play in making our communities safer and this initiative provides an excellent opportunity to engage with our young people and promote the behaviour and skills that can improve the safety of the people of Scotland.

“It will also help develop the overall confidence and life skills of the volunteers involved.”

The Helensburgh youth group is always open to applications from potential new volunteers; if you are interested in participating in the Youth Volunteer Scheme contact sfrs.youthengagement@firescotland.gov.uk.

READ MORE: Check out all the latest news from across Helensburgh and Lomond here