A Dromore man who joined the Fire Service as a retained (part-time) firefighter at the age of 18 is celebrating his 40th year of service - and says he has no plans to retire.
Crew Commander Stephen Sands, who was presented with a long service award by his colleagues, is one of just a small number of firemen to have clocked up 40 years.
Stephen, who has always been based in the Dromore station, said the satisfaction of helping the public far outweighs the downsides of the job.
The father-of-two, who is married to Nessie and works for Northern Lift Trucks in Lisburn, is unphased at being called out in all weathers or at all hours.
“Every time the pager goes, you never know what you are going out to, but that’s what I love about the job,” he said. “You come away feeling that you have done the best you could, should it be a good result or a bad result.”
During his time in the front line, Stephen has attended everything from road accidents - many of them on the A1 - and chemical incidents to all manner of fires in and around the town. Probably the most serious incident he had to deal with was the firebombing of Sprucefield Shopping Centre by the IRA in 1991 when it was virtually destroyed.
Animal rescues are also part and parcel of his duties and recently, he and his crew were called upon to get a horse out of a ditch.
Said Stephen, “It was stuck right up to its neck, but with ropes and the farmer’s tractor, we got it out.”
To mark his years of dedication to the job, his colleagues from the district presented him with a statue of a firefighter.
Said Stephen, “It was a surprise. It used to be you had to retire at 55 so there aren’t that many with 40 years’ service. I still enjoy the job and the rest of the crew are such a good bunch of lads - there’s a girl too - that they are friends as well. I enjoy it too much to retire.”
Meanwhile, Stephen’s son Barry has inherited his dad’s enthusiasm for the job, and is a full-time firefighter on the Springfield Road in Belfast.