Firefighter Steps Down From Brigade to Fight Ataxia
November 16, 2015
A BRAVE firefighter battling a rare illness is to step down from the brigade.
Martin Barker launched a campaign to raise awareness of the condition ataxia, which has caused people to refuse to help him because they think he is drunk.
As first told in the Evening Times in April, Martin’s neurological condition affects his balance, co-ordination and speech.
The 48-year-old has collapsed in the street and been left without help due to passers-by assuming he was drunk.
Martin said: “My fundraising has exceeded all expectations and I am delighted.
“I am now trying to raise awareness as, unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice out there simply down to the fact that ataxia is quite rare and there is a lack of understanding amongst the general public. “Only through research will we get treatments and a possible cure which shall help others down the line.
“Awareness is vital as it is maybe less well known than other conditions and we have to raise the profile.”
Martin learned he had ataxia, which is carried by around 10,000 people in the UK, in 2002.
His sister has also been diagnosed with the hereditary illness, which can be treatable, but for most forms there is still no cure.
His sons, Ewan and Michael, will at some point face a test to see if they are affected.
Martin joined the then Strathclyde Fire and Rescue in February 1992 but was forced by his illness to step down from front line service in 2007.
Since then he has worked at a desk job in Human Resources but the restructure to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service now means this role no longer exists.
Martin said: “I was placed on the re-deployment list for more than 12 weeks, however a suitable vacancy could not be found in an uniformed, non-operational capacity.
“I am not at all surprised as all as I know how scarce a possible vacancy is in my junior officer rank of Crew Manager.
“I have been non-operational since Jan 2007, so, it less of a wrench to be leaving as I have not been taking part in this type of work for some-time now.
“The way I see it, this result was always on the cards and I have been in employment for probably longer than management thought, but the Fire Service have been excellent with me and I can think of no other employer who would given me the same commitment.
“I have no complaints whatsoever.”
Martin and his family intend to take part in a Skydive that, due to weather conditions, has now been postponed to next spring.
But so far they have raised nearly £12,500 and Martin is still determined to raise awareness .
Martin added: “People can still kindly donate to the Virgin page until January 24, 2016, but after this date my fundraising efforts will come to a stop as I am very aware that people have been very kind with their donations and I have no intention of beating the same drum again and again.
“My fundraising has given me something to focus on and it has been enjoyable.
“The message I would like to get across is be positive and don’t dwell on the things you cannot do.
“The future is uncertain but, the way I see it, it is what it is. Though I will probably end up in a wheelchair eventually, therefore it is vital to keep your head up.”
Diane Vincent, director of people and organisational development for Scottish Fire and Rescue, said:
“Martin is hugely popular and a tremendous credit to the service.
“His dedication to helping others is well known among his colleagues throughout Scotland and there is great admiration for his incredible efforts that have raised a phenomenal amount of money for Ataxia UK.
“The charity’s mission of accelerating progress in research and advancing the prospects of a cure is clearly no easy one, but Martin’s determination to make a difference has meant an enormous contribution to its vital work.
“He is certainly an inspirational figure for many of us and as he leaves the service he goes with our very best wishes.”
To find out more about ataxia see www.ataxia.org.uk
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