For Jason Richards spending just over a quarter of a century as a firefighter was a dream come true – after not only following in his father’s footsteps but realising a childhood ambition.
And after exactly 27 years and 21 days with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service the father-of-three has packed his uniform and equipment away for the final time.
But Jason did receive a special visit during his last shift at Newcastle Community Fire Station where Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant helped oversee a farewell presentation.
The opportunity to pull on the uniform and wear the Staffordshire badge was a proud moment for Jason when he started the new recruits' course on January 6, 1994, and realised the dream he’d had since school. His dad, John Richards, had spent almost 30 years with the county service where he’d worked as a deputy divisional commander for the north division.
“My dad retired in 1991 and as a child I remember seeing him head out at night to do his calls,” said Jason, of Newcastle. “I wanted to be a firefighter from the age of about five or six. When I was at school the careers advisor asked what I wanted to do and I instantly replied ‘firefighter’ and when they asked if I’d thought of another job I’d reply ‘yes, firefighter’.”
On leaving Clayton High School – as it was then called - Jason completed a joinery apprenticeship and continued on that career path before an opportunity came up to join the fire service. He said: “I saw an advert in the local newspaper and went for it.”
Jason was first posted at Newcastle where he was eventually promoted to temporary leading firefighter before landing that position on a permanent basis at Hanley. But he returned to Newcastle in October 2009 as watch manager.
He said: “It was a proud day to receive the promotion and I had such a good team I decided to stay!”
In recent years Jason and his team were at the scene of a number of serious fires including blazes in a Newcastle town centre store in 2011; a former factory in Etruria in 2012, and at the Roaches in 2018.
It was the fire at the Roaches – which affected more than 200 acres – where the team saved a property from the blaze. Jason said: “We were there on the first night and the winds got up. There was a real threat the fire was going to spread to a property.
“We tackled it all through the night and saved the property – we received a big thank you from the owner and we went on to receive a commendation.”
The 50-year-old has also attended a number of serious road traffic collisions in his time – and recalls freeing one motorist who needed immediate medical care. He said: “In those situations you just have to remain calm and understand what needs to be done.”
Earlier this month the service welcomed 20 new recruits – and Jason has some words of advice for them. He said: “I would tell them to enjoy it, work hard, study, and not be afraid of change. I have seen a lot of changes and the service completing more preventative work from the late 90s has seen our communities become a lot safer and this is something I feel every one of us should be proud of.
“The fire service has been a great career to me and has provided me with a life that I will cherish.”
Jason now plans to swap fires for files as he sets up his own joinery and carpentry business. He said: “Outside of the fire service that was always my passion so that will be my next step. I am not sure if any of my children will follow in my footsteps into the fire service – but I know two of them may consider it!”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rob Barber praised Jason’s contribution. He said: “Jason has been a credit to the service and to his community and will be missed by those that have worked with him.
“He has made a difference to the lives of so many community members during his career and that is something that he and his family should be proud of.”