A man who is like a grandfather to many at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has been made an MBE as he marks 50 years as an operational firefighter.
Charles McGill – known as Chas to his colleagues – was awarded the prestigious medal in the Queen’s birthday honours.
The 67-year-old Watch Manager, who is also Port Liaison Officer at the service’s HQ in Eastleigh, is believed to be the most long-serving operational firefighter in the country.
Chas even exchanged a few words with the Queen as she personally bestowed the honour at Windsor Castle on Friday.
Her Majesty said: “Where are you stationed in the New Forest? Are you anywhere near Beaulieu?”
The firefighter replied: “Yes Maam. I am stationed at Hardley Fire Station which is near Esso oil refinery.”
The Queen added: “Yes, Prince Philip and I attended Cowes week on the Royal Yacht Britannia and we used to look and comment on the large oil refinery. Also, do you attend flooding incidents with the threat to our environment?”
Chas answered: “I am one of the High Volume Pumping Advisers.”
She said "very good" and then shook his hand.
As a small boy obsessed with toy fire trucks he could little have imagined this regal exchange taking place nor as a nine-year-old spending time outside his local station, hoping to catch a glimpse of the crews as they were mobilised.
When he was old enough to join the service he worked across the county while doing an apprenticeship outside of the service to become an electrical engineer.
He was later instrumental in setting up the station where he currently works.
It was there that he was promoted, at the age of 32, to Sub Officer – one of the youngest in the country at the time.
He said: "I felt overwhelmed on the day and incredibly proud. It was a fantastic day.
"When I approached the Queen I remember feeling that I had the support of everyone in the service behind me and I thought back on my 50 years as a firefighter."
During these five decades he has dealt with more incidents than most, driving to many in a Green Goddess, the iconic fire engine produced in the 1950s.
One of the biggest incidents Chas attended was the 1970 explosion and fire aboard the Pacific Glory, which was carrying 70,000 tonnes of crude oil when the Allegro, carrying 100,000 tonnes of crude oil, collided with it.
It took 40 hours to battle the flames during the incident, off the coast of the Isle of Wight, in which 13 members of the Pacific Glory crew were killed.
More recently he was a tactical advisor at the Swinley Forest fire in Berkshire in 2011 at which 50 engines from seven counties were deployed along with more than 200 firefighters.
Since lifting up his first hose in 1966, the fire service has been where Chas feels most at home, and he still remembers being a fresh-faced teenager, looking up to his grizzled superiors who had fought in the Second World War.
In particular, he remembers the expert tuition and guidance given to him by the late Charlie Holmes and Colin Falconer, both of whom he describes as father figures.
He has seen hundreds of people train under him, including some of the most accomplished in the service, and he is now looked up to with the same admiration by the potential fire bosses of tomorrow.
While he may have a lifetime of experience etched on his face, appearing every inch the ruffy-tuffy firefighter, Chas is one of the first to embrace the future of the service, which he feels is making confident strides forward in many areas.
He said he was thrilled to see the service working more closely with Hampshire police, and that he had always benefited from the expertise of PC Mike Batten, of the roads policing unit.
Chas said he is excited about the prospect of closer partnership working and having the force relocating to his station, and sharing an expertise and passion about keeping the public safe.
He added that the service was far more engaged with the public than it had previously been, placing itself at the heart of the community.
Another positive development is that more women are joining the fire service. Chas has recently begun working with a female firefighter, Julie Jacobs, and says she has set the bar high for recruits of both sexes.
While the faces may have changed, Chas believes bravery and respect for people are qualities that have remained universal among firefighters over the years.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Officer Dave Curry, who wrote in support of the MBE nomination, said: “Chas has always contributed far more than most, and dedicated himself to protecting and serving his community in the best possible tradition of the fire service.
“He brings a high degree of commitment and professionalism that has been instrumental in protecting the population of Hampshire.
“On top of all of Chas’s operational work, he has also been instrumental in developing the high-volume pumping capacity in the UK.
“His hard work in this area has probably made him one of the most knowledgeable people in this field in the UK.”
The latest gong will go with other awards he has been given in his career including one for his pioneering work with Airwave Network which revolutionised the way the fire service could communicate with the police and ambulance service.