​Dokus calls time on a long fire service commitment

​The former convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Norman A. Macdonald, has retired from another public role after more than 30 years of commitment to the Fire Service in the Uig area of Lewis.
Station Commander Ross Macrae with Dokus (centre) and Peter MacdonaldStation Commander Ross Macrae with Dokus (centre) and Peter Macdonald
Station Commander Ross Macrae with Dokus (centre) and Peter Macdonald

​At an event in Stornoway, former colleagues expressed appreciation and a presentation was made by Station Commander, Ross Macrae, who paid tribute to Norman’s exceptional dedication.

For the past 15 years, “Dokus” served as Watch Commander, one of many contributions to the Uig community. During his time in the service, he saw a huge transformation.

“When I joined”, he recalled, “Murdanie Macdonald was in charge and we both lived in Erista. When he got a call, he’d give me a shout. There were no pagers and it was a case of calling round the team. We were going around in a wee Escort van which was kept in the garage at the school, with a tiny pump and two lengths of hose.” Even that was an upgrade from Norman’s first memories – a hut in his native Valtos which served the team when it was first formed in the 1960s.

In the 1990s, after a review of rural services, a new garage was built in Miabhaig, with a “proper” fire engine capable of carrying six firefighters. It still operated on a voluntary basis. In 2005, the station was upgraded to “retained unit” and two years later, a new station was incorporated into the community centre extension, in which Norman was also closely involved.

This innovative approach has been emulated elsewhere in the Highlands and Islands with a fire station included in new facilities when communities which might otherwise have waited a long time to have one.

Norman recalls: “It is amazing to track how the service has evolved to what we have today. Time and again, the need for proper facilities in an area like this has been confirmed”.

The fire engines supplied until 2010 could carry six firefighters. Since then, there have been smaller units which carry four, but are better suited to island roads.

While the Uig population is small, the incidents are varied. “Chimney fires used to be the main reason for call-outs”, says Norman “but there have also been more serious fires and road traffic accidents.”

Extreme weather conditions can also create major challenges. He recalls one occasion in which “the strongest winds I’ve ever experienced” blew in the windows of a house occupied by an elderly lady who had to be rescued in terrifying conditions.

More recently, a house in Ardroil was completely destroyed by a bolt of lightning and the presence of a local fire unit proved crucial.

The Macdonald family involvement in Uig’s fire service is being maintained, with Norman’s son Peter in the role of Acting Watch Commander.