Firefighter goes from rockstar to life-saver

Former rock star John Shurmer-Smith (Louis Barabbas), now an on call firefighter, shares his unexpected journey from stage to saving lives on the Isle of Skye

photo of a man singing next to another photo of the same man wearing firfighter clothing
Firefighter John Shurmer-Smith, a former lead singer and now protecting communities on the Isle of Skye.

A former globe-trotting rock star has spoken of his journey from lead singer to firefighter.

John Shurmer-Smith, better known by his stage name Louis Barabbas, spent several years as the frontman of alternative rock band, The Bedlam Six.

Performing in front of crowds of up to 10,000 people, John and his bandmates entertained fans across Europe before calling time on their travels in 2016.

John has since moved to the Isle of Skye and become an on call firefighter with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), responding to emergencies via a pager. It is a career change which no one, including John, predicted.

He said: "Becoming a firefighter was never a childhood dream when I was younger.

"I've always been involved in music and art and have never really considered myself as being a practical person - my girlfriend does all the DIY!

"But, four years on, I can honestly say that becoming an on call firefighter is the best thing I have ever done."

John quickly immersed himself into local life and learned of the on call role through his postal operative, who also happens to be Watch Commander at nearby Dunvegan Community Fire Station.

Reflecting on his journey from stage-diving to life-saving, John said: "The fire service is full of very different people with lots of very different skills. In a way, the camaraderie between the crews is a lot like being in a band.

"In music, I never really felt necessary or needed. But this is a job where everyone is very much needed, and people recognise and value the work you do.

"I've responded to a variety of emergency incidents - everything apart from a cat stuck up a tree.

"The on call role can be challenging, but in small communities like Skye, we know that people respect and depend on us. We all help each other."

Like many communities, Dunvegan and fire stations across Skye are in need of more people to step forward and become on call firefighters.

John is determined to use his path as proof that anyone who works hard can succeed with the SFRS.

He said: "I spent my whole life in music and art.

"Before I joined the SFRS, the most energetic thing I did routinely was stagedive into a crowd.

"So if I can do it, anyone can - as long as they are committed and are prepared to work hard.

"If you give it a go and work hard, you'll surprise yourself - I certainly did."

The SFRS is currently recruiting on call firefighters in communities across Scotland.

On call firefighters respond to emergencies via a pager system during agreed hours and often balance the role with additional employment and family life.

As well as responding to emergencies, on call firefighters also deliver community safety programmes and attend weekly training nights to maintain operational standards.

For more information on the on call role and to view current vacancies, visit