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Heroes of the flaming frontline

Fighting fires is a dangerous and stressful job at the best of times but when someone has to be prepared to drop everything and rush to an emergency at any time of the day or night, it is easy to imagine the effect it can have on that person’s life.

Fighting fires is a dangerous and stressful job at the best of times but when someone has to be prepared to drop everything and rush to an emergency at any time of the day or night, it is easy to imagine the effect it can have on that person’s life. JACK ABELL and LAWRENCE POOLE chats with some of Bucks’ firefighting heroes about their work

ricky smith dean bourlet
ricky smith dean bourlet

The pair have relatives who have done the job, and it is all they have ever wanted to do.

“My grandad was a firefighter,” says Ricky, 28. “As a kid it seemed like it was really exciting, with lots of variety.

“When most people get older they go into careers that they never thought that they would end up in, but I always knew this is what I wanted to do, and I went into it as soon as I could.”

“I was very similar,” says Dean. “My uncle was a firefighter when I was growing up, and still is, and I always thought it seemed like such a good job.

“I’ve been doing it now for two-and-a-half years and I’ve loved it. I wanted a job where I knew that I was helping people and that I was making a difference.”

Ricky is part of a full-time team of officers at Gerrards Cross who work shifts, whereas Beaconsfield has some officers who are retained, meaning that they only attend the station when there is an emergency callout.

Both jobs require extensive training and the ability to attend any number of scenarios.

Retained firefighters are on call for 120 hours a week. They can be called at any time during those hours and must be able to get to the fire station within minutes.

“You have to be really disciplined, especially if you are on call,” says Dean. “You know that you might be called to the station at any time, so you have to plan your social life around it.

“You can’t go out for a drink, and if you go for a run, you have to plan your route so that you don’t go too far away from the station.

“You are constantly expecting a call.

“It can be frustrating at times, but you have to remember that the reason you are doing it is because it could save someone’s life, so it is definitely worth it.”

“To be honest,” says Ricky, “the most frustrating thing about doing that kind of work is if you don’t get called out. It’s a bit of a pain if you’ve sat around at home all evening waiting for a call and nothing happens.

“If you get called out and you go and help someone then you know it’s been worthwhile.”

Half way through our chat, a piercing alarm rings out throughout the station, and the two firefighters leap from their seats without a word.

After five minutes, only Ricky returns, Dean having gone out with a team to deal with an emergency.

“Sometimes you find that you are getting called out every hour or so,” says Ricky, “and sometimes not at all.”

Aside from the adrenaline rush, the job can be harrowing and traumatic and firefighters have to be resilient.

“It can be tough at times,” says Ricky. “Nothing can really prepare you for some of the things you see.

“My wife worries about me, although she is more used to it now. When we were first seeing each other and before we were married, I know that she used to be concerned that when I left the house in the middle of the night for an emergency call that I might not come back, and she’d wonder about what kind of incident it was that I was attending, but it’s just something that wives and partners of firefighters have to get used to.

“You try not to take it home with you if you have been doing something distressing, but I think all firefighters would say that it’s tough at times.”

For Ricky and Dean however, the adrenaline and the awareness that their jobs are saving lives and making a real difference to the people of Bucks is enough to keep them going to work every day.

paul lillycrop Image 1
paul lillycrop Image 1

Now 61, Paul took his first steps on the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) career ladder as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in April 1968.

The Amersham veteran is BFRS’s longest-serving firefighter and he smiles as he thinks about his lengthy career.

“It was a lot simpler back then. To check if I was fit enough, I had to carry another fireman, Harry Bennett, around the pump a couple of times!

“I was quite skinny so they wanted to make sure I was up to it.

“My first job was a factory fire at Rose and Co on Winchmore Hill – it was a chair-making factory. I’d just got my kit back and I had to go straight out on the job.

“You didn’t have the training beforehand like you do now days.”

A part-time firefighter, Paul, who lives nearby in Acres End, combines his role with another for the service, checking that fire hydrants across the region are working.

There are 13 crew members split across two watches and, more than four decades on, Paul tell me how times have changed during his 44 years.

“The biggest thing is modernisation. We’ve got all new equipment now and there’s a different style of training.

“There’s no pole to slide down [much to our female photographer’s chagrin!] because of health and safety. There were a few injuries: we used to play volleyball too.

“We used to have six-cylinder engines and now we’ve got these brand new Scanias – there’s loads of new rescue equipment too.”

When asked about his most memorable callout, he says: “The train crash at Seer Green [in 1981] was nasty. One train went into another on a snowy day, and three young boys died. It was very sad.”

How has he found making such a big commitment for so long?

“It’s about discipline. If you’re on call you can’t go down the pub to have a few beers, but if you’re a family man living nearby it can be a great profession. It’s not for young lads who want to go out clubbing all the time.

“I definitely recommend it to anyone considering joining the profession. The brigade is one of the best employers.

“There’s a great team here. All the boys here are fantastic and I still enjoy working with them.”

Now in his sixties, is he considering retirement yet?

“I know it’s got to come to an end some time – I can’t go on forever – but I’m still really enjoying it and I’d like to continue for a bit longer.”

tina jackson
tina jackson

AS THE only woman in her team, Great Missenden firefighter Tina Jackson’s duties often extend beyond the usual calls of duty.

The 36-year-old mother of three laughs: “I can be their mother, their best mate, their colleague, but I love it. It’s a great job and I’d definitely recommend it to any other girl thinking about joining the profession.

“It is very demanding though, both physically and mentally, but also extremely rewarding.”

Tina, who lives on the High Street in the village, works for 54 hours a week in her role at the station. And not being one to shy away from high-pressure roles, she also has another job.

“I’ve been a firefighter for six years and I’ve also worked with South Central Ambulance as an emergency paramedic for the past 11 years. We’re based at Amersham and I do four shifts every six months.

“It’s great as it frees up your days, which is lovely when you’ve got a family.”

I ask how the male firefighters took to her when she started at Great Missenden.

“They were great. I think because of my paramedic background I had their respect straight away too.

“It’s a very varied job – you deal with everything from road traffic collisions to flat fires and barn fires – so there’s always something different.”

Tina also speaks to children in schools about the profession.

“They love it. When I go in and take my helmet off, they say ‘but you’re a woman’.

“I don’t think a lot of them realise women can be firefighters.”

? To find out more about joining the fire service, go to www.bucksfire.gov.uk/BucksFire/Recruitment/ .

 

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