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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Oldest firefighter calls it a day after decades of service at Silloth

A man believed to be the county’s oldest firefighter has called time on his distinguished career, after more than three decades tackling blazes.

Peter Long photo
Peter Long

Former Silloth Fire Station watch manager Peter Long, 64, completed his final shift as an on-call firefighter last week and told The Cumberland News about his life at the forefront of public service.

Mr Long spent 30 years and six months at the station and admits he will miss his role, but understands he “cannot go on forever”.

Prior to joining Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service Peter, who lives in Caldew Street in the town, spent seven years as a corporal in the Royal Marines and time in the Territorial Army (TA) as a sergeant, before the chance to become a firefighter came literally knocking at his door.

“I worked at a factory at the time,” he recalled. “And I got a knock on the door by one of then current firefighters saying there was a vacancy and did I fancy it. I said yes, and that was it.”

During his three decades of service and hundreds of call-outs, it is two devastating flooding incidents that stick in Peter’s memory.

He was on hand for the floods in Carlisle in 2005 and those in west Cumbria in 2009, which claimed the life of police officer Bill Barker.

Peter continued: “I remember getting a call to send a crew out, going into Carlisle and looking down at where the old fire station was and it being completely under water.

“It was unreal the amount of water and we kept getting called out to houses to rescue people.

“They were two different types of flooding: in Carlisle the water was there and wasn’t going anywhere.

“In Cockermouth it was moving rapidly, it was horrendous watching it charge down the main street.

“I remember the search lights on the helicopters shining down and the sheer amount of people from the emergency services that were there,” he said. “I also saw a policewoman when the bad news broke about PC Barker.

“There have also been a few road traffic collisions that have been nasty, where we have had to cut people out – they aren’t nice.”

Despite some of the horrors Peter has seen during his time, he says the job was ultimately a rewarding one.

“The best thing about it was serving the community and generally being there, knowing you’ve done something useful to help people. You can go and do the home safety visits and fit smoke alarms that genuinely make a difference to people,” he said.

Peter, who is also a volunteer First Responder with the ambulance service, dedicated his time in the fire service to educating people in the Silloth area on how to protect themselves in their own homes. He estimates that he has completed more than 1,000 home safety visits in and around the town.

“We also used to do young firefighters sessions,” he added.

“I did the Heartstart courses for the general public and went into schools to deliver road awareness demonstrations.

“I will miss doing it, especially the call-outs and the lads. I was never away from the station; I was always doing computer and planning work. I will even miss the courses and definitely miss helping people.

“However, I won’t miss all the phone calls from the lads wanting me to book their holidays in.”

He added: “You can’t go on forever. Even though I didn’t really want to leave, you don’t know what’s going to happen in six months’ time.

“All over the country they are asking people to stop on longer – and I’m an example that you can do it.”

To mark his time in the service, Peter was presented with a certificate by his colleagues.

He can add that to his 10 years’ service award from the TA, jubilee medals for long service in fire and rescue, medals for service in the Royal Marines in Northern Ireland and the King’s Badge for the best overall recruit in his training while a marine.

Silloth Fire Station is appealing for more people to come forward and follow in Peter’s footsteps by becoming an on-call firefighter as there are currently vacancies.

For more details go to www.cumbriafire.gov.uk/want/work/oncall

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