Two of the UK’s longest serving firefighters are to be recognised by Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service at an awards ceremony on June 8.
Firefighting duo Phil Smith and Dave Furber have served together at Wem Fire Station for more than 40 years each.
“To reach 40 years service is a huge achievement not reached by many in the UK but it’s not unusual in Shropshire. Our firefighters are amazingly dedicated and deliver levels of availability that many other services would envy,“ said Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton.
Another north Shropshire firefighter Roger Smith, a former mayor of Market Drayton, retired two years ago aged 70 after a record 48 year career.
But Alfred Thompson, from Whitchurch, goes down in history as the longest serving UK firefighter of all time. He joined the Shropshire brigade as a 16-year-old, while Queen Victoria was on the throne, serving for a record 57 years until he died, aged 73.
Whenever Phil and Dave have turned out to a house fire, road crash, flood or any rescue – they have usually known the victims in the tight knit Wem community they have collectively served for more than 80 years.
Dedication to duty is what both have put above all else which has seen Watch Manager Phil (61) turn out on the first morning of his honeymoon and abandon another planned holiday.
Going “above and beyond” but what they regard as just “doing what’s right” involves gladly sacrificing their time to fit new copper piping and clean up the home of a woman resident after a severe Christmas Day flood. Or ensuring that a pensioners’ church dinner, under threat after a fuse box fire, goes ahead after they put out the blaze and get the authorities out to fix the electrics in time.
“It’s what you do in Wem,” said Dave, (64), of Bank House Lane, who works as a mobile mechanic and intends to continue as an “on call” firefighter for as long as he can pass the fitness tests.
The pair have turned out together on 99% of calls in which they have worked to save lives at road crashes and comfort trauma victims in their hour of need. They were part of the crew that received a Chief Officers’ Award for bringing a man back to life with a defibrillator after he had collapsed and stopped breathing during a garden fire two years ago.
They “lived” at Whixall Moss during the long days and nights of firefighting in the 1980s when more than 30 fire appliances were on the scene. The Kingpin tyre fire also blazed for days. They were at the Tern Hill barracks bombing aftermath, Cox’s Chemical fire, Shrewsbury gas explosion and the COD Donnington fires.
“When that bleeper goes and we are on our way from Wem fire station to help someone on our patch we know the people involved 99% of the time,” said Phil, who turned up with a crew to his father’s chimney fire.
The two said they had seen huge improvements in training and fire kit with sophisticated cutting equipment replacing a crowbar or handsaw they may have used to carry out a rescue four decades ago.
“Breathing apparatus had only just come in when we joined and we didn’t have to wear it,” said Dave.
Phil, who retired last year as Acting Watch Manager at RAF Shawbury, said he had been honoured to attend the Queen’s garden party two years ago in recognition of dedicated service.
The firefighting duo will be recognised again at Theatre Severn next week when they receive their 40 years long service awards from the Chief Fire Officer.
80% of Shropshire firefighters are “on call” and turn out from their daytime jobs or during the night to answer 999 calls in mainly rural areas. For more information about becoming a firefighter call Shrewsbury fire HQ on 01743 260200 or visit www.shropshirefire.gov.uk