Behind the scenes at the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service in Horsham
PUBLISHED: 11:31 18 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:31 18 May 2015
In the first of a new series that goes behind the scenes and explores the fascinating everyday lives of Sussex people, Alice Cooke joins the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service in Horsham
On the day that I join Green Watch at Horsham Fire Station, Kevin Farrant, their longest serving fire fighter, is retiring after nearly 36 years of service. He is presented with a commemorative axe, as is the tradition, as well as a cartoon drawn up by one of his team, which depicts each of them and their various nicknames (which are listed over the page). There are jibes flying back and forth from the moment that I arrive, and it is this, says Kevin, that he will miss the most.
“The camaraderie and teasing is constant, but I really wouldn’t have had it any other way,” he says.
This is also a time of change for the entire West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service. Due to recent budget cuts, instead of there being 11 to 14 men on a watch at any one time at the station, there will now be five in situ, plus a team of part-timers (in a similar set up to the army reserves, they work full-time elsewhere but are fully trained and live within roughly 10 minutes of the station. The team find it hard to hide their disapproval, and are concerned that this might impact on both call-out times, and the number of men available to attend an emergency, as in their words, “it will all be stretched very thinly.”
But while they’re concerned about the future and understandably sad to see Kevin go, Green Watch are more than happy to show me around the fire station, and of course when the offer arises to wear the kit and try out some of the equipment, I jump at the chance.
As we take a ride in the fire engine Kevin tells me that it’s not just fires that they attend, but also anything from flooding and car accidents to trapped animals (including the inevitable cats stuck in trees). “We once even rescued an eagle,” he laughs. “It was a tame one, and it got the bells and harness that it was wearing around its leg wrapped around a branch.”
It soon becomes apparent as we tour the station and look at all the equipment – of which there is a lot – that having experienced fire personnel who have “time on the ground” with all the kit is a definite advantage. The breathing apparatus (or BA system, as it is known) alone is a bit of a palaver to put on, not to mention very cumbersome and heavy once it is all in place. And you sound a bit like Darth Vader even while breathing normally, which is a bit strange.
“There’s three months of residential training and then we do drills and training throughout the year,” Kevin tells me. “The technology is constantly evolving so that’s vital really. And “Horsham is quite a big fire ground. We have to deal with both urban and rural settings as well as some pretty adverse weather conditions, so there is a lot of variety. We are trained to deal with river and harbour incidents but nothing out to sea, as that is covered by the coastguard in Sussex – in Kent, where they have the Medway running so far through the county, they have to be able to cope with incidents out on the water too.”
West Sussex Fire and Rescue can be called to assist another station anywhere – Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent, but also anywhere that they’re needed.
“On a normal day there’s a lot of checking of kit, drills and training,” says Kevin as we go up in the aerial ladder platform (ALP), and look out over Horsham and the Hogs Back beyond. The ALP is for tackling fires in places such as high rise buildings and stately homes. “But there can also be a lot of sitting around.
That’s par for the course, and is probably why we’re such a tight-knit unit – you spend a lot of time together and you get to know each other incredibly well. I couldn’t have picked a nicer group of guys to work with, and I would trust them with my life, which is handy really, as if it came to it I wouldn’t have a choice!”
Horsham fire station in numbers
• Two fire engines
• One ALP
• One Incident Support Unit equipped with specialist breathing apparatus
• A fire engine costs cost approximately £190,000 and remains operational for around 13 years
• Watch Commander: Al (The Reverend) Green
• Crew Commander: Brian (Shabba) Cook
• Crew Commander: Andrew (Chalky) White
Firefighters: • Kevin (Kes/Ken) Farrant • Richy Cruise • Richy (Randy) Randall • Neil (Dabble) Dorrell • Ady (Mexican) Mortimer • Joe (Elton) Weir • Dan (the man) Dixon • Matt (Bully) Bullingham
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