Unique Fire Award

Mick Howe (left) and Alan Taylor Shropshire's Chief Fire Officer

He still bears the scars from when a burning ceiling fell on top of him, he was one of the first on the scene at the IRA bombing at a Shropshire Army barracks and has been called out to a "frightening" oil refinery fire and helped fight huge fires at an Army depot.

But during a record 40 years service with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, retained firefighter Mick Howe who runs his own radio and TV shop, said: "There are highs and lows in this job but I wouldn't have changed it for the world. Your every day job can be a bit mundane sometimes but when that bleeper goes off you just don't know where or what you are going into."

Mick, 62, the station officer at Market Drayton fire station was given a unique award for his "outstanding" service to the community by the Chair of Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority, Councillor Dave Morgan, at a medals ceremony held at Shrewsbury fire HQ and attended by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant. Mick Howe was one of 20 members to be commended for their long and valuable service including Community Fire Safety Officer Tony Barnes, a retained firefighter at Bishops Castle fire station who received the High Sheriff Good Citizen award for a "substantial" contribution to society.

Mick, of Grosvenor Road, Market Drayton, who lives just a quarter of a mile from the town's fire station, is believed to be the first firefighter in the UK to have served for 40 years.

"Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service doesn't believe in wasting good talent by retiring people just because they have reached a certain age. As long as they are fit, we want their expertise," said Chief Fire Officer Alan Taylor.

He also praised Station Officer Howe for his diplomacy, firmness when difficulties arise, and for being enthusiastic and a "very able" leader with a well motivated station staff. During his service, Mick has forged numerous links with the local community and been proactive in introducing successful fire safety initiatives into the Market Drayton area.

Over the years Mick has rescued numerous cats from trees, dogs from rabbit holes, stuck farm animals, and fought house and farm fires as well as dealing with road crashes and floods. With his colleagues they have raised hundreds of pounds for local charities and the Fire Service Benevolent Fund.

Mick, of Grosvenor Road, Market Drayton, who intends hanging up his helmet later on this year, urged younger men and women to join the retained service.

"I would recommend it to anybody. It is for someone who enjoys doing something separate from their normal job," he said.

His wife Sue also received an award along with 16 other wives, partners and family members, for their "long suffering" understanding and support through years of abandoned meals, missed children's parties and family events disturbed by a 999 call.

She said: "I can't count the number of meals that have gone in the bin over 40 years when the bleeper has gone off but Mick has thoroughly enjoyed his time with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service."

Also honoured was Leading Firefighter Tony Barnes, 52, who is the first firefighter to receive the new High Sheriff Good Citizen Award for his "substantial" contribution to society - a special award from Shropshire's High Sheriff Michael Lowe for his 110 per cent effort in "making a difference" to fire safety in the region.

He was praised for his "outstanding efforts, loyalty, hard work and caring approach" which had made a very real difference to the well being of others.

Tony, a grandfather, who also runs New Street garage in Bishops Castle, said: "I'm very proud. Over the moon. It's almost rendered me speechless."

He thanked the rest of his crew at Bishops Castle fire station for their tremendous support in pushing through numerous fire safety initiatives which have included knocking on every single door in the town to fit free smoke alarms and give free home risk assessments which has led to a marked fall in fires.

Tony, who has 21 years service with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, has also led an initiative for firefighters to fit free door chains as part of the Bogus Caller Task Force linking with a number of other community partners. Over the years he has given hundreds of talks to WI's, mother and toddler groups, schools and hospitals, about fire safety and created an "army" of community supporters who all help to get over important fire safety messages.

He said of the retained fire service in Shropshire: "I just enjoy it so much. It's a wonderful career."

Praising all the firefighters who received awards, Alan Taylor added: "Remember how many people are with their families in Shropshire today because of your courage and bravery. We are very proud of you."

31st March, 2006