Sidmouth fire chief given rousing send-off

Sidmouth fire station commander Stuart receives long service award on last day

FIRE chief Stuart Collings is a man of his word.

“I always said I would retire at 55 and even though the laws have changed and I could stay until I was 65, I just feel it is the right time to go,” said Sidmouth’s station commander for 11 years.

His firefighting comrades gave him a good send-off on Monday and Chris Bridgeman, group commander of Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, presented him with a long service award for completing 31 years.

The crew plan a rousing send-off in a few weeks.

“I came to Sidmouth as a firefighter in about 1983,” said Stuart, who is also well known in the town for his decorating business.

“I joined the fire service in 1979 at Seaton Fire Station and served there for four or five years before transferring to Sidmouth.”

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He and wife Diane were living in Seaton at the time, until they had a house transfer to Sidmouth.

From firefighter he became sub-officer then took over as station commander when Mike Gee retired.

“The service has changed beyond belief in 31 years,” said Stuart. “The new modern fire service is health and safety conscious and is changing quite a lot. It started urban search and rescue, which came off the back of 9/11, so we have the means that if something like that did happen we know what to do.”

The most vivid memory of fire shouts in Sidmouth was the tragic fire in May Terrace nearly 10 years ago, just before Christmas, when two young people were trapped and died.

“It sticks in the mind. I was newly promoted and was there from the start. It was just a funnel of fire that ravaged through the property.”

Another memory is of the more recent hailstone deluge in Ottery St Mary.

“We had four-foot floodwater to get through,” said Stuart.

He said the 23-strong crew tried to “make light” of most of their work to relieve the stress such a job entails.

One year a fatal road accident had to be cleared near Trow Hill corner quicker than normal because Princess Anne was passing through on the A3052 on a royal engagement.

“The Blue Ball fire at Sidford was very sad, but the landlord has, I think, got a better property built, to a high spec, now.

Stuart, who plans to spend more time with his grandsons Harry, three, and George, one, said: “I have enjoyed my time, I have got no regrets. I shall miss it, and the camaraderie, when I have gone but it is time for a change and move on to other things.”

The interview process for Stuart’s successor has not yet started.