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Wayne McCollin, who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief Officer in the former Lothian and Borders Fire Department, first experienced racial intolerance when he moved to the UK with his family in 1960 .
Now retired, he remembered the racist slurs that were addressed to him in his youth.
âIt was a culture shock. People who want to play with your hair and call you a nig-nog or a coon, âhe said.
âIt was like that in the 60s – there was nothing you could do. It was completely wrong, but it was what it was.
McCollin didn’t let racism stop him – as a child he dreamed of being a doctor or a dentist, and after leaving school he went to take a dental technician course with the RAF.
But his plans all changed when his older brother Louis became a firefighter – McCollin decided to follow in his footsteps.
âWe were very young when we got to the UK, and when Louis saw a fire engine he captured it,â he said.
âHe always wanted to be a firefighter. He tried four different services before being accepted by the Walsall Fire Brigade, a small service in the West Midlands.
âWhen the West Midlands came together, he became one of 2,500 firefighters – and one of three Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) firefighters. I started my career telling myself that if you’re half your brother’s firefighter, you’ll be fine.
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During his career as a firefighter and later as a senior officer, McCollin advocated for greater diversity in the fire and rescue services.
He said: âI was the chairman of the joint recruiting committee for the three departments – Lothian and Borders, Fife and Central. We have launched a few initiatives to try to improve the diversity of services, and although we have managed to increase the number of BMEs, they were not as high as we would have liked.
âCulturally, the services are still evolving but this will take time. Trying to break it down has been the biggest challenge.
âThere are feelings of ‘we’re really good at what we do – why change?’ and people who saw nothing harmful in their actions or thoughts and could not understand why these issues were being raised.
Since McCollin retired from the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, he has been involved in training and is currently vice-treasurer of the Asian Fire Service Association.
He was also active in the Union of Firefighters and was the first president for members of black and ethnic minorities.
“We all have a desire to make the life of the next generation less traumatic than what we have been through,” he said.
âBeing the role model has always been a part of everything I’ve done. It doesn’t mean that if I can do it you can do it – it’s just to show that it’s possible for people of all horizons of doing this work. “
While McCollin has faced racism in the UK, he still thanks his parents for leaving Barbados decades ago.
He said: âThey made a decision that they thought was right for their family and leapt into the unknown. They worked hard – it must have been really hard for them, and I really appreciate what they did.
âI am proud to be a Bajan, or Barbadian, and I hope for a better future for my three daughters and six grandchildren.
Deputy Chief Officer Stuart Stevens, who is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s champion for ethnic minorities, said: âBlack History Month is an opportunity not only to celebrate, but also to celebrate the contribution and the legacy of Scotland’s BME communities.
âStories like Wayne’s allow us to take stock of our lived experience, both positive and negative, and learn from it to support our drive to be more inclusive as a service and as a that company.
“Serving the diverse Scottish communities is an honor, and I am fully committed to championing excellent public services that meet the unique needs of different community groups.”