January 9th is a landmark date for Wellington fire-fighter Derek Ridgeway. On that day in 1979 he began his career in the Somerset Fire Service. Thirty-six years later, on the same date, he retires from what has become the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service.
Derek’s impressive career, for the last 18 years as Watch Manager, will be celebrated on Saturday 10th January at a retirement party at Wellington Rugby Club. Amongst the 150 guests will be former and serving fire-fighters and the event will include a presentation made by the service’s Chief Fire Officer, Lee Howell.
Derek (60) has already extended his career for 5 years longer than the usual retirement age as a result of “more relaxed working regulations” but now finds that maintaining the service’s fitness demands make this the right time to retire. Looking ahead he said, “Most of all I’ll miss the comradeship at the station. This is a 24/7 job. I’m here every day and I’ll miss helping people. As fire-fighters we’re all proud of helping in emergencies and saving lives.”
Asked to reflect on the major changes he has witnessed over the last 36 years years, he said, “The biggest change has been in our equipment. When I joined the service we had one engine and a Land Rover; now we have two engines both equipped with computers and a Land Rover but we also man the Instant Response Unit at Taunton which deals with terrorist attacks and chemical spills. Taunton’s High Volume Pump is also manned from Wellington and was used to deal with floods on the Somerset Levels last year. We train every week and the Health and Safety demands are now much greater than they were. The station has 23 retained fire-fighters to deal with 500 calls per year.”
And the biggest emergency he has been involved in? “The Buncefield Oil Refinery fire in December 2005.” Fire-fighters from across the country were called to fight the fire and subsequent fuel-air explosion at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal which ignited 20 storage tanks. Wellington fire-fighters were involved in the incident for a week before the fire was brought under control.
The many local residents who have called on Derek for his decorating and home maintenance services will be reassured to learn that he will not be retiring from his business and will still be on hand to deal with their domestic repairs and minor emergencies.