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Strood fire station reignites memories for ex-station commander living with dementia

A former firefighter living with dementia felt his memories reignited when he visited his old station.

Doug Holgate, 83, struggles with his short-term recall but often fondly reminisces about his time with his crew in Strood.

Former firefighter Doug Holgate with current crew members and his family at Strood Fire Station during his visit on Friday. Picture: Chris Davey
Former firefighter Doug Holgate with current crew members and his family at Strood Fire Station during his visit on Friday. Picture: Chris Davey

So his son Paul decided to organise a visit.

Doug said it was "wonderful to come back" to his old base yesterday afternoon.

The grandfather-of-four became a firefighter after his national service. He was based at Folkestone, Bromley and Maidstone, where he was a driving instructor, before joining Strood in 1971 and becoming station commander.

Doug, who also has two great-grandchildren, still lives in Medway with his wife of 63 years, Shelia.

Rewarded with a medal in recognition of his long service, Doug was deployed to a number of incidents, including the Crypt restaurant fire in Dover in 1977.

Doug, in his old office, holding a calender which features in the photo he is holding of himself from his time as the station commander. Picture: Chris Davey
Doug, in his old office, holding a calender which features in the photo he is holding of himself from his time as the station commander. Picture: Chris Davey

Paul Holgate, Doug's son, has fond memories of playing in the fire station and sometimes riding in the engines.

Paul said: "It means an awful lot to us. He's still part of the fire brigade family and if he ever sees the guys on the street they still call him guv and he loves that and that was my main driver behind it all.

"He doesn't pick out specific memories, but when he starts to talk about them it's like he's still there, and when you start to mention people he used to work with it all starts to come back.

"If you can go back to the memories that they have and the experiences they have, that's what it's all about - and that's what today's all about and he's really enjoying it.

"The station have been great, they've been really helpful and put themselves out. It's his station and that's how he thinks of it."

Speaking about his visit, Doug said: "It’s been fantastic. So much has changed but it’s been wonderful to come back.

"All the time I served I had a really good time and I hope you have as much fun out of your service as I did, I loved it."

Former firefighter Doug Holgate with Watch Manager Neil Jones in the cab of one of the fire engines. Picture: Chris Davey
Former firefighter Doug Holgate with Watch Manager Neil Jones in the cab of one of the fire engines. Picture: Chris Davey

Doug shared his experiences with current crew members stationed at his former base in Gravesend Road.

Sean Bone-Knell, director of operations at Kent Fire and Rescue Service, who is also the lead officer for dementia with the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: "It's been absolutely lovely today. When we got the call to say that Doug and his son wanted to come back and have a look round where Doug used to work and be the officer in charge it was absolutely great for us.

"We always try to say to people that the fire service is a bit like a family - you're not just joining a job you're joining a family.

"It's lovely having Doug coming back here because the memories have come flooding back for him, not just being in the building but some of the operational incidents he went on and the people he helped in his time."

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