50 Years: Meet 1974 recruit Ian Ferguson

Then and now

On April 1st 1974, County Durham Fire Brigade merged with Darlington Fire Brigade.

The boundary change heralded in a new era for the Fire and Rescue Service.

And to mark the new era, a cohort of 30 trainee firefighters were hand selected to begin their training on April 1st.

The evening before, the S1 intake reported for duty at Framwellgate Moor Training School, for in those days the intense training saw new recruits live on campus.

While not all 30 would graduate on to become fully-fledged firefighters, 27 did, and many of them are still firm friends to this day.

One such firefighter was Dalton-le-Dale local Ian Ferguson, then aged 18.

He said: “The first day was memorable as we were all run ragged, as the new regime kicked in. I was only 18 and was as fit as fire but I still thought I was going to die. What some of the older guys must have felt like, goodness only knows!

“My course lasted 10 weeks, rather than the usual 12 weeks. We didn’t have a passing out parade, we were just trained up and kicked out to our first stations.”

Ian was posted to Seaham Blue Watch in the days of 56-hour working weeks, when firefighters wore black helmets and worked two day shifts, two night shifts and had two days off before they reported back for duty – as opposed to modern crews who work four shifts before enjoying four days off.

And it’s not just the shift patterns that have seen vital improvements, he said: “The appliances I rode were just beginning to change to something resembling decent, but the first appliance I ever turned out on was an old Bedford Water Tender, which struggled to start at times…but it always did!”

He added: “I spent my two-year probation on a watch with guys who were approaching retirement and some of them had served in WWII, so they had a great story to tell, but more importantly, they taught me the right way to do things.

“They laid the foundations that would stand me in good stead for the rest of my service and for that I can’t thank them enough.”

Ian spent 34 years working on the pumps, working his way up to the rank of Watch Manager, where he led his own team.

He said: “Whenever I got a new probationer Firefighter on my watch, I used to take them into the office and I would welcome them but I would also tell them that whatever situation they were presented with, they cannot, must not and will not be beaten.”

Ian retired in 2008 but his pride for the Service has never faded.

He said: “The Fire Service is not just a job, in my view it's a vocation, a calling.

“I was incredibly proud to have been given the opportunity to work in a service that was so highly regarded by the public. I met some fantastic people throughout my time and enjoyed every minute.”

Reflecting on 50 years since he first donned his fire kit and of the Service as it is now known, he said: “The S1 intake were an absolutely superb bunch of blokes who were thrown together by fate and we just got on with it and helped and supported each other throughout our training course.

“50 years have passed and I see new groups of firefighters going through the training process and I hear that that same sense of camaraderie is still there and that makes me so happy.

“Here’s to the next 50 years of the Service – may it continue to thrive and produce some top notch, committed firefighters!”