A firefighter has told how he overcame barriers to achieve his dream to protect the public.
Leroy Shaw grew up in a deprived community blighted by racism, violence and gang culture, and lacking positive role models for young people.
But he broke free and eventually realised his ambition of becoming a firefighter after successfully completing a very tough recruitment process – not once, but twice.
And for the past six years he has been protecting Scotland’s communities at times of emergency while working with people of all ages to help them stay safe.
In fact, Leroy has just penned a childrens’ book urging kids to follow their ambition, with safety advice on what to do in a fire emergency.
He spoke out about his life and his journey into the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service ahead of a forthcoming national recruitment campaign.
Dedicated Leroy, 35, who is based in Ayrshire, said: “I love my job – I am so proud to be a firefighter.
“But there is absolutely no doubt that the process was the toughest thing I have ever gone through. It wasn’t just physically tough but mentally tough.
“I would therefore tell anyone to seriously consider the reasons why they want to join before even considering filling out an application form.
“If it is for kudos then don’t bother. If it is for money then don’t apply. This is not a job – it is a lifetime commitment to protect the public.”
Leroy was born in an English city in 1980 and decided at the tender age of six to become a firefighter after playing in a toy coin-operated fire engine.
Leroy said: “I grew up in an inner city and, like many other inner cities, there was deprivation, there were gangs, there was racism and there was crime.
“The reality of the situation for young people like myself was: you are either in the gang or you are targeted by the gang.
“There was just a general lack of opportunity so I decided to move out of the area altogether.”
Leroy moved to Wales and ended up working as a marketing manager for a nightclub.
He said: “It was a very glamorous job. You were always meeting VIPs and beautiful women – but there was always something missing. I still wanted to be a firefighter.”
Leroy decided to apply for positions being advertised in Scotland. He was successful and in 2007 placed on a waiting list for previous legacy service, Dumfries and Galloway Fire and Rescue Service.
But he could not wait and decided to go through the tough recruitment process for a SECOND TIME and was accepted by previous legacy, the Fife Fire and Rescue Service.
Leroy admits: “Once I set my sights on something, I do not ever let go no matter how tough it gets. I wanted to become a firefighter with all my heart.”
He then had to attend the Fire Service training centre at Gullane – where he underwent rigorous training and testing before becoming a fully-fledged firefighter.
He added: “There were so many techniques and procedures to remember. You don’t just run in and spray a fire with water. There is a whole science behind fighting fire.
“The written exams really tested my boundaries but we all worked as part of a team and we helped each other get through training. Team work is very important to firefighters because it is how we keep each other and the public safe.”
He took up his first position at Lochgelly in Fife in December 2009 and then went to Renfrew before heading for the Dreghorn station in Irvine in November, 2013 where he is still based.
He has attended many different emergencies but enjoys carrying out Home Fire Safety Visits where he checks or installs smoke detectors and issues safety advice to householders.
Leroy lives just a few miles from his station and enjoys a strong support network.
He said: “I love everything about my job. I love the sense of family at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service particularly when my own relatives are so far away.”
And Leroy, who has just published his first childrens’ book called “Kizzi the Fire Pug”, takes great pride in protecting the public.
Leroy revealed: “I will never forget how we were called out to a house fire where the householder was overcome by fumes after going back inside for his dog.
“The dog had in fact already found its way out – and that is why we always tell people to remain outside and wait for us to arrive.
“We found the man and we carried him out and he was taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment. We are trained and we just did our job.
“But, one day, there was a chap on the door at the station and it was the man. He wanted to give me a cuddle and say thank you in person for helping him.
“It was completely unexpected and it did make me emotional – I will never forget him.”
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is seeking to recruit up to 200 new firefighters over the next two years.
It is expected 100 will report for duty in 2017 with the option of a further 100 in 2018.
If you are inspired by Leroy’s story and would like to have a career at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, visit /peoplelikeyou or follow #PeopleLikeYou on social media.
Our recruitment campaign opens on 13 September and everyone has several weeks to apply.