Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service celebrating 40 years of saving lives

Cambridgeshire's 2013 on-call recruits. Picture: CAMBS FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE Cambridgeshire's 2013 on-call recruits. Picture: CAMBS FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE

Thursday, April 3, 2014
12:08 PM

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was formed 40 years ago this month.

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In four decades, the service has seen the centralisation of its fire control, new fire stations have been built at Burwell, Stanground and Cambourne and other stations including Wisbech and Manea have been relocated or redeveloped.

It bridged out to establish its own standalone Fire Authority – separate to the county council – in 1997.

Cambridgeshire has been the first to initiate and form the UK’s first Combined Fire Control with Suffolk, the first to achieve the British Standard for Health and Safety, and one of the first fire services to buy hydraulic cutting equipment for frontline firefighters.

The service has more than 660 employees, of which 243 are full time firefighters and 305 on-call firefighters,

Fire prevention, protection and support staff account for more than 100 employees – a drastic change from in 1974 when the presence of non-uniformed staff was in its infancy.

Women also now serve on the frontline – a sight that was never seen 40 years ago – with 24 female firefighters among its ranks.

Fire Authority chairman Sir Peter Brown, said: “It is amazing to see how the Service has developed in that time and I pay tribute to everyone who has played a part.

“At the end of the day, Government’s come and go, but the fire and rescue service remains a testimony to true public service.”

Equipment, fire appliances and firefighting kit has been one of the biggest changes seen in the fire service over the decades.

Cambridgeshire’s longest serving firefighters reminisce about the time when they would turn up to shouts in “donkey jackets”, rubber gloves and yellow shrink-wrap trousers.

Watch Commander David Kilner, who is in charge of the on-call crew at Sawtry, joined the Service 38 years ago, making him its longest serving firefighter.

He said: “Personal protective equipment (PPE) has improved no end. That’s definitely the biggest change.

“It’s unrecognisable from what it was – as are the fire engines. We’ve moved on massively from the days of a petrol engine on a tiny chassis.

“Back in the day, commanders would have bells in their houses – not mobile phone or alerters. And when the bells went down at the station, everyone in the village knew – it sounded like an air raid warning.

“There would also be places in the county that were black spots for radio signal. I remember in Gidding we would never get any radio signal so if we had a job there, one of the crew would have to run to the phone box when we arrived to book us in attendance.”

Looking to the future, Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg said: “The challenges we face moving forward are not only financing our fire and rescue service but aligning our assets and resources with the reduced demand and risk in the county.

“We must also acknowledge the way people’s lives have changed and the culture of today, which has put pressure on our recruitment and retention of on-call staff.

“But most importantly, looking toward the future, we must continue to do what we have been doing for 40 years, which is to offer the best fire and rescue service to the residents of Cambridgeshire that we can do with the resources we are given.”

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