Brian Allaway came to the University having been a firefighter in both Belfast and Edinburgh. He has gone on to publish a book that looks at gender identity and culture in the fire service.
PhD, Humanities and Social Science
|Year of Graduation||2010|
Your time at the University
My student life was slightly different to the norm.
In 1969 I left school with little in the way of formal qualifications, and at the age of 16 I joined the fire service in Belfast. I passed the in-service promotion examinations but felt that this was due to a good memory, rather than fully understanding the various subjects, particularly the science based ones. I became curious about how things happen in the physical and chemical world and so enrolled in a degree course with the Open University, intending to major in chemistry and technology. Half-way through I started to get interested in risk and people management, and how and why people do what they do, so I undertook courses in subjects related to those issues. Following several years of study I graduated with a BA(Open). Still curious and after a couple of years' break I enrolled on a part time MSc degree at Queen’s University, Belfast, studying leadership, economics and technology, from which I graduated three years later.
In 1994 I transferred to Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade and some time later I applied for and was accepted as a part-time, mature student on a PhD course looking at culture, identity and change in the fire service, with a particular focus on the effect of masculine identification. During the study, the pressures of work increased, particularly when I was promoted to the role of Firemaster, and I was very grateful to the University for allowing me to suspend my studies on a couple of occasions.
I loved studying in Edinburgh, feeling very privileged and supported by the University staff, and spent many happy evenings in the library, feeling as if I were a ‘proper student’ and soaking up the atmosphere.
I retired in 2010, just before I graduated, but I applied what I learned through the years of part-time study in the organisation I was proud to be a part of as my studies progressed, and I am sure that the service, in turn, benefited from the applied understanding of masculinity and its application to change, which such a study brings.
I loved studying in Edinburgh, feeling very privileged and supported by the University staff, and spent many happy evenings in the library.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
Since leaving the University I have completed a book based on my PhD entitled ‘Culture, Identity and Change in the Fire and Rescue Service’, which was published by the Institution of Fire Engineers in 2011. I am a trustee of the charity ‘The Fire Service Research and Training Trust’, which manages a system of grant giving for related research and training, and I volunteer in the Shelter Bookshop in Stockbridge.
I served in the fire service in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1994, the years of what became known as ‘the Troubles’, and I have just finished a book using the techniques I learned during my studies in Edinburgh entitled ‘Belfast Firefighter’, which will, I hope, place on record the extraordinary work carried out by ordinary firefighters in particularly difficult circumstances. All proceeds will go to the Fire Fighters Charity and I am currently looking for a publisher.
I have also become an advanced Tia Chi practitioner, and still learning the art.
I am not sure if I am qualified to give advice to current students, but what I would say is that you are privileged to be able to study at such a wonderful university as Edinburgh. Make the most you possibly can of the opportunity, never lose your curiosity or determination to succeed, but most of all enjoy what is a wonderful life-changing experience.