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Burton Fire Station gets a new recruit for the day. . . Mail Reporter Steve Ashby

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 09, 2014

  • Steve Ashby on duty with Burton firefighters

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AT some point in our lives, we have all heard someone say firefighters should be paid the same as footballers.

The fact is, though, that when I thought about it, aside from putting out fires and saving the occasional cat from a tree, I was unsure exactly what firefighters did on a day-to-day basis.

As a child I had always wanted to be a firefighter, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the crew for a day, before more industrial action in a row over pay and pensions kicks in.

I arrived at Burton's Moor Street station a little wary, unsure of what the day would have in store.

I was greeted by fire crew manager Chris Neale, who introduced me to the rest of his team before kitting me out in my very own uniform – and I have to admit, I felt rather good in it.

That was until I stepped outside into the sun.

I had been complaining about the heat while wearing a shirt and tie, but the fire suit had its own climate.

I had to hand it to the whole team – the idea of walking around a house on fire in the thing sounded like hell.

I was starting to break sweat after five minutes of just standing around.

I was then given the opportunity to have a go at some routine drills.

I was handed a pair of gloves and a helmet to wear, just to seal in the heat a bit more.

I was asked to reel out a 45ft long hose reel across the yard.

Feeling confident after watching one of the other firefighters demonstrate, I attempted to lift the reel to my shoulder and walk to unravel it.

It was a bit heavier than I'd expected, and until I got past the first few metres I struggled to lift it any higher than my waist.

I put on a brave face and carried on, hoping my struggle couldn't be spotted from afar.

We connected the hose to a water supply and I attached a nozzle.

I was about to open the water valve when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder from one of the other firefighters, and I heard the words: "Brace yourself."

It's a good thing he was there, otherwise when I released the water I would have been put firmly on my backside.

I clutched the hose, attempting to aim it through the windows of the building, while Chris increased the pressure of the water being released.

After about a minute I was starting to ache from holding it. After two minutes, I was exhausted.

When I learned that these guys may have to hold hoses for hours when tackling blazes, I realised just how strenuous the job was.

Every piece of equipment felt like it had been made out of solid concrete, making tasks incredibly difficult to carry out.

If there were a real fire I would have used all of my energy setting up the equipment.

Granted, there are days when no incidents occur, and that can only be a good thing in terms of public safety.

But there are also days when the crew will receive details of one fire while in attendance at another.

It suddenly became abundantly clear just how much of a nuisance deliberate fires could be for the service, and what the knock-on effects could be for somebody awaiting help.

In light of this I was shocked to hear that Burton has only two fire engines to service the thousands who populate the area.

I had to ponder the Government proposal of forcing firefighters, who regularly push themselves to their limits, to work until the age of 60 after a lifetime of such demanding work. It seems ridiculous on the face of it and, particularly after this experience, I fully back the Fire Brigades Union strikes to fight against it.

Chris said: "Not so long ago I was saying to people that I only had nine years left until I can retire – now I have to wait 19.

"All it would take is for the Fire Brigades Union and the Government to sit down and come to some sort of compromise, but they just won't do it."

"You feel like banging their heads together – it's so frustrating."

While paying firefighters the same wages as footballers would be outlandish to say the least, offering them a reasonable retirement age and pension seems like the just and right way of saying thank you for their service.

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