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Don’t forget sacrifices made by retained firefighters

The retained firefighters win the station cup in the late 1960s
The retained firefighters win the station cup in the late 1960s

Don't forget the retained firefighters!

That was the message from Don Bates, the former national general secretary of the Retained Firefighters Union.

Mr Bates, of Marion Crescent, Maidstone, praised our KM article earlier this month celebrating the 50-year history of Maidstone Fire Station but pointed out “one major omission”.

We had not mentioned the role of retained firefighters - the part-time volunteers, who have provided so much of our protection over the decades.

He said: “From April 1948 until October 1981, 33 years of its 50-year history, Maidstone Fire Station was manned on a shift basis by both career firemen and volunteer retained firefighters.

“The retained crew manned their own fire appliance which carried identical equipment to that carried on other front-line fire engines. The retained crew were put through the same rigorous training programmes as the career firefighters, and of course fire does not discriminate when it comes to a fight to put it out!”

Mr Bates recalled the nine-week strike by the full-time firefighters from November 1977 to January 1978 and pointed out that during that period the retained crews with their different union, continued to respond to fire and emergency calls throughout and advised the troops and naval personnel who were brought in to provide emergency cover with their Green Goddesses.

Mr Bates, now 72, was a retained firefighter for 24 years, serving at Medway and Maidstone fire stations.

He said: “Even today, Kent has 66 fire stations of which 12 are manned by career firefighters, 10 are jointly manned by career and retained crews, and 44 are manned solely by retained firefighters.”

Mr Bates was among the eight-man crew of a fire appliance that crashed in College Road, Maidstone, while responding to an emergency call on September 2, 1970. The tender, which was manned by two full-time firefighters and six retained men, burst into flames. One man, fireman Malcolm Farrow, died from his injuries a few days later. Firemen Roger Lynn, John Page, Albert Foreman, Peter Whent, Albert Bray, Tony Bush and Don Bates were all injured, but survived.

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