Twenty seven years


When I was a kid I wanted to be a Fireman. The excitement, the smoke & flames, flashing lights and sirens. I rarely played any other games and living in the East end of London in the 70’s and 80’s, there were plenty of fires engines to chase through the streets to another emergency… from a burning rubbish chute, a flat in a run-down council estate or a vast Victorian riverside warehouse spewing its voluminous burning contents skywards blotting out the summer sun.
When the time came, jumping impatiently from one job to another after leaving school waiting for the day I was old enough to apply. I eventually started the process of becoming a Firefighter in the London Fire Brigade until several months later I walked ‘under the arch’ like so many before me and so many since, into the London Fire Brigade Training Centre at Southwark. It was 27 years ago today Monday 13th July 1987, just a couple of weeks short of my 19th Birthday.
By Mid-November training was finished, twelve of us were posted to various stations and watches around London, I was the only one posted to Blue Watch, so was the only one to start my first proper shift as a Fireman on Wednesday 18th November 1987. A big day for me and a baptism by fire before lunch when I attended my first four pump fire, a car repair work shop off just on the borders between Bethnal Green and Poplar Fire Stations.
But by the time that day was out it was going down in the history books as a very dark day for London and in particular the London Fire Brigade, with 31 people, including Station Officer Colin Townsley from A24 Soho red watch, killed in the Kings Cross Underground Fire.
I arrived back at work shell shocked the following morning and listened in awe as the Red Watch at Bethnal Green recounted what they had done at the fire. What had I got myself into? Despite wanting to have been a Fireman for as long as I remembered, this was now very real. Brought home to me that day, seeing one of my training squad mates on TV, all 6ft 5 inches of him stood looking overawed at the events unfolding in front of him at Kings Cross on his first night duty as he was posted near the top of one of the entrances to the underground with a field telephone while exhausted Firefighters crawled out of the fire to seek some respite and cool air before changing their air cylinders to go back down into the inferno.
Life in the LFB was very busy back then, Friday 20th was my first night duty, the first call was at 6:15pm, a car alight in Malcolm place Bethnal Green. Eighteen calls and two fires later at 7:30am I had my last call of the shift which was a Mini that had been tipped on its side and was leaking petrol in King Henry’s Road in Hackney. The calls continued, I began to find my feet with some trial and a lot of error and plenty of interesting… feedback I think we call it now.
As time went on I met lots of fantastic people and some great characters including some fearsome Officers who I was literally too scared to look at in the eyes. My own experience grew as I was exposed to a constant diet of operational incidents and within a couple of years I’d moved to Poplar to be at the Station that kept me entertained as a child. I also took a liking to doing some of the work that the Junior officers did so eventually found myself acting up to Leading Fireman as I took my first faltering steps on the road to promotion.
So, as you read this 27 years to the day since I started with LFB, I am now almost 46 years old and LFB has been my whole adult life. I don’t recognise the 18 year old recruit who walked into Southwark training centre that day, but I could offer him some advice. My eldest Daughter, 20 tomorrow (Happy Birthday Charlotte) is over a year older than I was when it all started.
I’m am now older and more experienced than pretty much anyone I knew and worked with in those early days and I guess I am now one of those fearsome Officers I wouldn’t look in the eye way back then. You know what, that isn’t such a bad thing, because they’d actually do you no harm and kept us on the straight and narrow and I think I could do worse by people than being who I am.

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