Looking At Edinburgh

28 July 2008

Fire, Police, Ambulance? Edinburgh’s Emergency Services

The Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service is the oldest municipal fire service in the world, and one of the nicest. All my experiences with them have been entirely positive – from the time I burned the toast and my neighbours panicked and called the fire brigade and a horde of six-footers arrived and solemnly examined the grill and I tried not to giggle as I explained I had just chucked the toast away and made some fresh, to the time I reported a bonfire burning unattended next to the allotments, they’ve always seemed like exceptionally lovely people. I don’t know if that’s a recruitment requirement. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Edinburgh Fire Brigade

The same is not absolutely true of the police. Though on the whole (and especially over the past five years) I’ve had nothing but good encounters with Lothian and Borders Police, still, I have the usual share of first-hand experience and friends with first-hand experience of police being… well, not lovely people. My favourite negative story didn’t happen to me: it happened to a friend who was cruising on Calton Hill about 20 years ago. I will call my friend Eric, since that was his name: he died over 15 years ago, and I still miss him.

Eric met a man, and the pair of them were standing fairly close together as they exchanged… information. Negotiations seemed likely to lead to a positive climax, but both of them were vertical and seemly clad as a third party appeared on the skyline: a Lothian and Borders policeman, out patrolling the Hill to keep it safe for the decent people. (At that time of night, probably everyone on Calton Hill who wasn’t there to have sex was either a policeman or a drug dealer.) The policeman called out to Eric and his new acquaintance, and the other man promptly legged it, though – as Eric pointed out to me afterwards – they were neither of them doing anything actionable, yet.

Eric, however, always a smart cookie, obeyed the policeman’s summons as any honest, upright, and seemly-clad individual would do. The policeman looked him up and down (Eric was probably wearing his usual cruising outfit of clone-cropped hair, clone-grown moustache, black leather jacket, and jeans) and wanted to know what Eric was doing on the Hill so late at night. Out for a walk, Eric responded.

“Do you know what men do on this hill at night?” the policeman asked.

“No,” said Eric, wide-eyed. “Tell me.”

Five years ago the Chief Constable of Edinburgh and the Lothians apparently told an assembled group of senior policemen that he’d just found out that the force had been policing Calton Hill to try and stop men having sex with other men there for exactly a century: the first recorded arrest was in 1903. He suggested that perhaps it was time to stop wasting police resources on the de-gaying of Calton Hill.

My favourite positive story about LBP is something quite different: for a year or two, a couple of years ago now, I and others in my neighborhood were getting harassed by a bunch of underage thugs who all seemed to think that life didn’t hold anything better than getting ASBOs and making their adult neighbours angry as hell. I reported them to the police regularly, and was as regularly told “we’re looking into it, we’re trying to do something about it”, which I took to be the police equivalent of “there’s nothing we can do unless we catch them in the act”, which since they never showed up until at least an hour after each phone call, seemed very unlikely.

What it turned out they were doing was finding the ringleader an apprenticeship. He was placed with a joiner when he turned 16, and given something worthwhile to do and a useful trade to learn, he quit making trouble – the group of thugs he’d led disappeared from the neighbourhood as a group, though most of them are still around – and he started working off his ASBOs. Good for him, good for the kids he led into trouble, and good for us, the adults he used to harass and try to intimidate. One of those useful examples of how the Scottish system of helping kids who are getting into trouble, is actually much more effective than punishment.


(The Lothian and Borders Safety Camera Partnership was set up in 2003 to include Lothian and Borders Police, the City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Borders Council, West Lothian Council, Transport Scotland, NHS Lothian, NHS Borders, Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service. The aim of the Partnership is to reduce collisions on the roads by using safety cameras at areas where there is a history of collisions and speeding. I liked this photo, and I certainly support speed cameras, so it’s in here.)

I don’t have any amusing or inspiring stories to tell about the ambulance crews, because the only times I’ve ever met them I’ve either been unconscious or not in a state to notice what they were like. But I’m very appreciative. Thank you.

ambulance at night

These photos are available on Redbubble as: Edinburgh Fire Brigade, Police car, Edinburgh, and Knight Emergency of the Dolorous Countenance.


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