Facing the heat with Peterlee firefighters – The Northern Echo

What makes a firefighter? Northern Echo reporter Georgia Banks finds out as she works a shift with County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

DEAFENING sirens, scorching environments and demanding physical training are everything you can experience on shift as a firefighter. I braced myself as I entered their world and rode backseat in one of the emergency engines for the day.

I was suited and booted by white watch manager, Michael Corfield, who prepared me for my trip into personally uncharted territory. Not an hour into my shift, after I had been introduced to the firefighters from the watch, the alarm sounded and everything stopped – we put down our freshly brewed tea and scattered following reports of a child stuck in a bathroom.

We raced down the stairs and clambered our way into engine number two. I stepped into my fire kit fitted over the steel toe cap boots – a trick I learnt from the firefighters to swiftly put on the uniform and suspenders.

The blue light run was intense, we weaved our way in and out of traffic, beeping the horn to let motorists know there was an emergency.

We chicaned our way through cul-de-sacs, until the truck arrived at the incident on Cleveland Place in Peterlee.

There we found four-year-old Charlie Stephens who was stuck in the upstairs bathroom of his family home. He became trapped after the door seized up due to a damaged latch.

The firefighters scaled the house and entered the bathroom from an upstairs window, before prising the door open from the other side and comforting the youngster.

Charlie’s family were overwhelmingly grateful, which struck home the vital role firefighters have in the community.

The youngster’s dad, Richard Stephens, told me he was very thankful. He said: “Charlie was in for less than 25 minutes, they comforted him and got him out straight away.”

The incident made me appreciate the stamina of firefighters as the mid-July heat beat down on us in the already boiling uniforms – I could only imagine the level of heat the uniforms retained in a blazing fire.

Once it was clear everyone was safe, we made our way back to the truck.

We pulled into the station and started the busy day of non-emergency jobs – this included checking fire hydrants and breathing apparatus (BA) training.

MY visit coincided with the launch of FireStoppers, a confidential reporting line managed by CrimeStoppers. It allows members of the community to make an anonymous tip-off call if they have any information about deliberate fires, and was the idea of district manager, Phil Innis.

He said: “It’s fair to say the community has a reluctance to speak out and it’s clear people know who are setting the fires. We wanted to give the community a tool to tell us what they know anonymously. There was an opportunity to go to CrimeStoppers which was the preferred choice.

“We ventured into a 12 month trial last year in Easington and found about a 20 per cent reduction in deliberate primary fires and a six per cent reduction in deliberate secondary fires – it has great potential.”

The project is one of the ways the service is looking at preventing fires. Following my chat with Mr Innis – who outlined the aims of the service – it was time to get back to work.

White watch clocked off from their 11-hour day shift and handed over to blue watch, who worked the 13-hour night shift.

Within minutes of them coming on duty we were called to a house fire which ended up being a false alarm. The team made use of being in the area by performing safety and wellbeing visits which saw them fit free smoke alarms in houses and offer advice and support to residents.

Following the job, on our way back to the station we were diverted following a report of a stranded pigeon on a house aerial in Murton.

Blue watch braved the pouring rain and quickly darkening skies and hurried to the incident.

They freed the bird in the nick of time and it was taken to an emergency vet.

My night concluded with the rescue as the night shift began.

After talking to firefighter, David Newton, it was clear the team valued their relationship with the community, something he hopes to build on at the station’s open day on Sunday, August 25, from 11am to 3pm.

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