A fireman’s lot - protecting the people of East Devon
- Credit: Archant
Honiton is a town with a fiery past but there is a highly trained team that works around the clock to keep its residents safe, writes Steve Jennings.
A fireman’s lot is certainly a varied one.
Long gone are the days when the duties of a trained firefighter were restricted to the core job of fighting fires, as these days they need to attend a full range of incidents, including floods, road traffic collisions, chemical spills and people getting themselves trapped in any number of weird positions in some even more obscure locations.
And, alongside their emergency duties, they work in the community, raising fire awareness and giving safety advice.
Wayne Broom has been a firefighter for 30 years and has seen many changes in his time keeping East Devon safe: “When I started out, we wore helmets made of cork,” he recalls. “We had rubber boots and plastic trousers too. All highly flammable.
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“Today we wear state-of-the-art leather boots with leather toecaps and steel reinforcing.
“We used to say our ears were our thermometer, as they were uncovered, so we could tell how hot it was. Same with our hands, as we never wore gloves in those days.
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“But nowadays we carry thermal imaging cameras, so we can forensically assess the heat and conditions even before we enter any room and see through smoke.”
Wayne is part of a 20-strong team based at Honiton Fire Station, which is located on Dowell Street in the town, covering a population of over 19,500 people in an area of approximately 228 square kilometres throughout Honiton town and several Devon County Council wards. Council wards covered include St Paul’s and St Michael’s in Honiton, Gittisham, Awliscombe, Stockland and Broadhembury among others.
It is an ‘on-call’ station that manages an average of 250 call-outs a year. The paid crew consist of highly trained professionals working to the same high standards as wholetime firefighters.
Apart from a few hours each week for training sessions and to carry out other pre-arranged duties, on-call firefighters only attend the fire station when they have received an emergency call-out. For much of the time, an on-call fire station is not crewed. Each on-call firefighter carries a pocket pager, which is activated when they are needed and they have a maximum of five minutes to report to the fire station and mobilise the necessary appliance(s).
And they react quickly; when the emergency services were called to a fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter in October 2016, an incident that made national news headlines, it was a Honiton appliance that established command and control support on site.
On-call firefighters will have other occupations, but when the call comes, they drop whatever they are doing and become part of a highly motivated team. Wayne said: “Depending on the type of cover given, an on-call firefighter may respond from home or work, day or night. The staff are the main asset in undertaking a range of community safety activities that are primarily aimed at preventing fires and deaths and injuries in fires.”
And the times keep changing and present new challenges when fighting fires, including modern building techniques, as Wayne explains. “In the old days, windows would shatter, and this would release heat and smoke,” he states. “But double-glazing is far more robust and retains it all, making the rooms we enter far more dangerous by not releasing unburnt products and combustion.”
Another new development is Honiton’s firefighters now undergo fire behaviour training at the academy at Exeter Airport to understand the science behind fire, and how to confront backdrafts and flashovers. “For instance, in a compartmented fire, where there is a lack of oxygen, simply opening a door and entering can be fatal,” Wayne explains. “But by using breathing apparatus and modern firefighting nozzles, the conditions can be controlled within the compartment, making firefighting much safer.”
As important in the role of the modern firefighter is promoting fire prevention. Honiton’s firemen will visit schools to give safety demonstrations and have performed house calls too. In fact, Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service offers a home safety visit for concerned residents and provides smoke detectors (if required) and can supply an escape plan for the relevant family and residents.
The Honiton team is playing its part in innovation and has a specialist appliance that offers enhanced logistic support for national incidents: “Take the Somerset flooding; the crew from Honiton was running things and effectively organising the work and welfare for crews from all over the country who came to help out from as far afield as Wales, London, Sheffield and South Yorkshire.”
The Queen is the patron of the Fire Fighters’ Charity and Honiton raise funds for injured firefighters. Events include an annual car wash, the Three Peaks Challenge and, one year, even a ‘Calendar Girls’ style calendar!!
It is certainly reassuring to know that a highly trained team is working hard to protect Honiton’s residents. But a fireman’s lot is never easy; and no two days the same and they rarely, if ever, get a ‘thank you’: “We don’t expect it as we just do our job, ensure the people involved are safely handed to the ambulance services and move on to the next job.
“But there was one lady who was badly hurt in a fire, whose life we had saved, who came down to the station in her wheelchair and took time to thank every one of us who helped her. That was very nice, but we don’t do it for that.”
If you think you have what it takes to be a retained firefighter, or simply want some fire safety advice, then visit the website www.dsfire.gov.uk or call 01392 872200.