‘Seeing how members were not just colleagues, but friends, made me want to be part of the fire station’

18 June 2017 12:05PM

When growing up, David McDowell would hear the call bell ring and see his father drop everything to rush to the scene of a fire.

He watched over the years as Gerard McDowell served Egremont Fire Service, and noticed the camaraderie between the firefighters in a close-knit community.

And then, in 1987, he joined the service and, under the tutelage of his father’s former colleague Raymond Colley, learned what was required to keep the people of Copeland safe.

“I joined Egremont Fire Station because of my father who inspired me,” said David. “He joined in 1963, providing over 22 years of service, and I remember on many occasions the bell sounding in the house and off he would go to a fire call.

“Growing up and seeing how members were not just work colleagues, but close friends, made me feel I wanted to be part of the station. When I joined in 1987 I found that it was a professional run service.

“My main foundations were from the training that leading firefighter Raymond Colley gave me throughout my probation period, which was a two-year package. The foundations that Raymond taught me have lasted up to this present day.”

Two years after David’s father joined the service, Raymond Colley began his 33 years at Egremont Fire Station.

Raymond, who is now 69, said: “I’ve known David since he was a baby as I was in the fire service with his dad. I remember the night he was born.

“I started in 1965 and was there for 33 years. All the time I enjoyed it.

“We got paid but it was more of a hobby. We used to do inter station quizzes and we got through to a regional competition in Chorley.”

With so many years of history behind the station since it was set up in 1861, David wanted to remember the men who had given up their time for Egremont.

A number of years ago, he had the idea to produce an honours board listing all the former firefighters in the town.

But, having only started in the 1980s, he needed help to identify all those firemen from the earlier years.

He turned to his father’s old friend, as well as receiving support from ex-Egremont firefighters Alistair Herd and Arthur Smith, who also has family ties to the service with five members of his family working as firemen in Egremont and Whitehaven.

“I keep old photos and he brought some along, he came to see if I could give him a hand and he could see I was interested,” said Raymond.

“We got help off others too but there were some people we lost track of.

“To be honest he came with the idea a long time ago and he kept asking questions.”

Two weeks ago, the board was unveiled at a packed-out open day inside the fire station, with firefighters from across the decades returning to where they had served.

Raymond said: “It was very good. There was a great turnout and David has done a good job. I met some old-timers that I hadn’t seen for a bit, it was nice to see them.

“I’d congratulate David. I was very proud of him and of the station.”

Since he started in the 1960s there have been a lot of changes for firefighters to deal with.

“In those days we didn’t get as many road traffic accidents and service calls, it was more on the fire lines. We went to Marchon a few times to back up the Whitehaven fire service,” he said.

“We went to some very serious fires but we had a lot of laughs too. Now you get counselling but I never had to go down that route.

“There were incidents we didn’t discuss. I didn’t even discuss serious jobs with the wife.

“I was 17 when I joined the auxiliary fire service then I went on to be retained. There’s more training now, you hear lads talking and they have to do this and that, and account for yourself 24/7. We had an availability board to mark when you weren’t available.”

And David has noticed similar changes in his 30 years with the service.

He said: “I have seen many changes, the uniform, the equipment and the way we respond to incidents. As technology moves on so does the service.

“One major change is in the way in which we book off call. Many years ago we had to travel down to the station and write times on a board informing other firefighters when you were leaving Egremont and when returning. We now have a PC-based system and we can book off call via mobile, PC, laptop etc. This new system also informs control, at the nearest station, to respond to an incident, saving vital time when a serious incident occurs.”

Raymond, who received a 20-year service medal during his time in Egremont, relished working for the fire service.

“I enjoyed all my time there,” he said. “When I stopped enjoying it I retired. I was full time at Sellafield and I had enough to do, getting called out can effect your home life. You had to drop everything if you were out with the family.

“You didn’t know what you were going to or when, you were on call 24 hours and we didn’t have pagers, you had a call bell in your house.

“When we went on to pagers you had a lump of gear to carry about, they weren’t small like they are now. You had to carry it wherever you went.”

One thing has stayed the same, however – Egremont Fire Station remains an integral part of the commmunity.

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