AS part of Black History Month (UK) one of Scotland's highest ranking black fire officers, who was also the former assistant chief officer of Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade, has reflected on his experiences of racism.

Wayne McCollin, who was born in Barbados, moved to the UK in 1960 before becoming a firefighter.

Mr McCollin served with fire services in England for 25 years before becoming the highest ranking black firefighter in Scotland when he joined the Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade in 2003.

He said: “That was a culture shock. People wanting to play with your hair and calling you nig-nog or coon. It was how things were in the 60s – there was nothing you could do. It was completely wrong, but it was what it was.

“You get tired of people saying how terrible it was.

"It was 40 years ago and there is nothing else to be gained by telling the stories.

"We have to work out what is happening now and why it is happening now.”

Before becoming a firefighter Mr McCollin had wanted to become a doctor, or dentist and tried the dental technician's course with the RAF, but eventually followed in his brother Louis' footsteps and joined the fire brigade.

Mr McCollin retired in 2009 after 31 years of service.

He added: “We were very young when we arrived in the UK, and when Louis saw a fire engine it captured him. He always wanted to be a firefighter. He tried four different Services before getting accepted by Walsall Fire Brigade, a small service in the West Midlands.

“When the West Midlands came together, he become one of 2,500 firefighters - and one of three BME firefighters. I started my career being told if you are half the firefighter of your brother – you will be alright.”

During his career Mr McCollin pushed for greater diversity within the fire and rescue services, but recalled that some colleagues were not aware of their prejudices.

He said: “I was the chair of the joint recruitment board for the three services – Lothian and Borders, Fife and Central. We introduced some initiatives to try and improve the diversity of the services, and although we managed to get the numbers up of BME, they weren’t as high as we would have liked.

“Culturally services are still evolving but it is going to take time. Trying to break it down has been the biggest challenge.

“There are feelings of ‘we’re really good at what we do – why change?’ and individuals who saw nothing prejudicial in their actions or thoughts and couldn’t understand why these issues were being raised.

“We all have a desire to make life for the next generation less traumatic than what we have gone through. Being the role model has always been part of everything I did. It’s not saying if I can do it, you can do it – it’s just to show that it’s possible for people from all backgrounds to do this job.

"I give a great deal of credit to my parents. They took a decision they believed was right for their family and leapt into the unknown.

"They worked hard - it must have been really tough for them, and I am really appreciative of what they did.

“I’m proud to be a Bajan, or Barbadian, and I hope for a better future for my three daughters and six grandchildren.”

Since retiring Mr McCollin has continued his work towards diversity of the fire service training consultancy has also been a national officer and secretary with the Asian Fire Service Association, where he’s currently vice treasurer. He had been active within the Fire Brigades Union and was the first chair for black and ethnic minority members.

Assistant chief officer Stuart Stevens is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s ethnic minority champion.

He said: “Serving Scotland’s diverse communities is an honour, and I am fully committed to advocating for excellent public services that meet the unique needs of different community groups.

“Black History Month is an opportunity to not only celebrate but to celebrate the contribution and legacy of Scotland’s BME communities.

"Stories such as Wayne’s allow us to take stock through lived experience, both positive and negative, and learn from that to support our drive to be more inclusive as a service and as a society.”