London Fire Brigade’s ‘Life’ courses help 6,000 youngsters in 10 years

A desperate scheme to stop gangs of youths attacking emergency fire crews every Bonfire Night has reached its 10th anniversary with 6,000 teenagers across London having passed through it.

The ‘Life’ programme run by the London Fire Brigade—started by two officers at Shadwell fire-station in the East End in 2002—now runs 60 courses for youngsters who learn about firefighting and rescue work, often turning round their lives.

The week-long courses have helped reduce arson, malicious false alarms and attacks on emergency services.

Many of the teenagers are sent from youth offending teams, probation service and pupil referral units, while others arrive because they’ve done well at school.

The latest course for 12 youngsters had its passing out demonstration and parade at Shadwell fire-station yesterday, where it all started in 2002.

The courses began as an experiment when watch mess manager Steve Martin and station officer Richard Welch went onto the East End’s Clichy Estate to try and reach out to the gangs.

Richard, who was at Shadwell to see the passing out, told the Advertiser: “We were having problems and just walked around the estate to get to know the kids—by their own admission, they were the ones attacking us.

Most Read

“We invited them to the fire-station, then started getting referrals from Probation and Social services.

“These kids were brought up in poverty with many years being told they’re worthless, so they believed it and felt they have no stake in society. We showed how they could turn their lives around.”

But his colleague Martin, a Fire Brigades Union rep, died within two years of the scheme starting.

He was remembered by Poplar & Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Fire Brigade union rep.

“At least Steve Martin saw the course come to fruition before he died,” the MP said. “The fact we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary is a tribute to him. It’s his legacy.”

The courses are funded in an industry-sponsored �1.4 million programme, which is being copied by seven other brigades up and down the country and even being introduced in New Zealand.

That’s the legacy Steve Martin has left since those early days venturing onto the Clichy Estate to come face-to-face with youths who had been attacking firefighters.