Burning Ambition Pays Handsome Dividends; YOUR HONOUR Michael Norton Has Earned the Queen's Fire Service Medal for Distinguished Service with the YFA

Article excerpt

Michael Norton's career in voluntary work started early: He was only 15 years old when he was first introduced to it. Though just a kid himself - still attending grammar school - he and his friends did fund-raising to help the poorest children from his home area, Edgbaston, to a day out of the city slum. Why?

"We enjoyed the social side of the fund-raising," 43 year old fire station officer Michael Norton today explains.

Little did he know then that this first introduction would lead him to get the Queen's Fire Service Medal for distinguished service some 30 years later.

But it did, because Michael Norton and his colleague John Gordon were the two firefighters who engineered and started the Young Firefighters Association, YFA, today Britain's fastest growing youth organisation.

They - or rather John Gordon, Michael Norton keeps emphasizing - had the idea to create a youth organisation centred around the fire brigade after having been called out numerous times to put out fires in bins and sheds started by bored teenagers.

Two days after first discussing the possibilities of teaching kids fire safety as a means of getting them off the streets, the two men had typed up the whole framework for YFA.

The report was handed over to the senior officers, but at that time they thought a youth organisation was not absolutely necessary, and so the report was filed.

That was in 1983. Until 1985 no-one gave the report a thought, but after the riots in Handsworth and Lozells the fire brigade felt they needed to make a impact on young people and emphasize their neutrality.

Someone thought of the old report, and within two years the first unit of YFA was set up. Michael Norton did the first exercise on the very first day - and he has kept on being an instructor to this very day.

Twice a week - and often more - he teaches children from the age of 11 to 17 fire safety. But YFA is not just about fire safety. It is also about giving the children confidence and teaching them about self-discipline and how to fill a function within a group.

These skills are built through facing the children with (fun) challenges such as canoeing, abseiling or going camping. Or through going abroad to see other people and cultures.

Independently from the British YFA similar organisations have evolved around Europe. They cooperate on biannual competitions and exchange schemes where children and instructors have the opportunity to meet. …