At Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service you don’t have to go far before you bump into someone who knows “The Two Kelvins”.
The good thing is that we both still feel young in what we do. We’ve looked after ourselves mentally and physically and we fit together like a pair of gloves.
Kelvin Chell and Kelvin Knapper work side by side as Fire Safety Officers at Newcastle Community Fire Station – between them they have clocked up close to 95 years at the service in a range of roles.
We sat down with them both to take a look back at their careers and what they actually think of each other.
KK: I remember joining up with the fire service quite vividly to be honest. It was 1973 and I was taking my A Levels and, like everyone else, I was look for a job. I didn’t want a boring or repetitive job, I wanted something that was going to be challenging and could give me good progression.
The armed forces were suggested but I didn’t want to get shot at, the police force was suggested but I thought that could be just as scary and then someone mentioned the fire service. It was something that hadn’t really crossed my mind but I’d thought I’d give it a go.
The college fixed me up with a look around the old Hanley Fire Station and I was hooked from there. I was so impressed and enthused by what I saw that I applied and was accepted a short time later – beginning a recruiter’s course in August 1974.
KC: Well, I joined in 1972 as what was known as a junior fireman in those days. I’d always known that I wanted a career in either the police or fire service and at that time the police weren’t taking anyone on so I joined up with fire. I, like anyone should, went into the local fire station and tried to get an understanding of what they actually do and tried to work out whether it was the job for me or not – which it turned out it was.
I was a very young and naïve boy at the time though and after two years learning the trade – both at headquarters in Stone and beyond – we were assigned a fire station. That’s definitely where you learn to grow up quickly. My first shift was at night in Hanley and it was real eye opener. I’ll never forget it.
KC: The most shocking was that first night shift in Hanley. We responded to a child who had been stuck under a large sewer pipe and it had unfortunately killed him. I can still remember it now, his mother there in tears, wiping his face and giving him a kiss. It was truly heartbreaking and that memory has stayed with me.
For all the horrible moments I’ve experienced, there have been countless happy ones – and it’s always vitally important to remember those. I’ve worked with some great people in my time and one of the things I’ll take away when I eventually step away is the amount of fundraising we’ve managed over the years. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for local charities and it’s such a great feeling passing over money to those that really need it. Seeing the looks on their faces brings me so much joy and it’s why we do it. We want to help people and if someone needs us, we’ll always be there for them.
KK: The most shocking things have been fatalities. I’ve dealt with a lot of fatal fires in the area that I’ve lived and some of the people killed were people I knew. At the same time, that’s counterbalanced somewhat by the many times we’ve been to a fire and saved somebody’s property, their life, their pet or their business. You go home with a happy glow every time that happens – even after 45 years in the job it’s an amazing and memorable feeling.
What’s also shocked me is the change in the service over the last 40 years or so and it’s all been positive. The culture when I joined wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it is now and the equipment we use leads us to be able to protect people far better than we did when I was starting out. It’s been great to be a part of that progression.
KK: Just for the record I’m the younger Kelvin. He’s three months older than me so I always make him remember that.
KC: He might be the younger Kelvin but I definitely am the younger looking, so make sure you put that in there!
KK: In all seriousness he’s great. We’ve worked with each other for years and years and anyone who knows Mr Chell will be aware of his fundraising. The work he’s done, and continues to do, is immense. Thousands and thousands of pounds raised for local charities is down to him and I’m proud to work so closely with someone like that.
The good thing is that we both still feel young in what we do. We’ve looked after ourselves mentally and physically and we fit together like a pair of gloves. It’s been great working in the same office for around a decade now and to be honest half the time we don’t need to speak – we just know what the other is thinking and which way we should go about something.
KC: I’ve got a lot of respect for Kelvin Knapper. Fire safety wise he’s all knowledgeable – he’s my mentor in regards to fire safety. If I’ve got a problem, which is rare, then I know he’s always there for me, any time day or night, to listen and help. He’s a very, very good guy, down to earth and very well respected by everybody. He’s a good friend and has taught me how to be a good, professional and proficient fire safety officer.
KK: It’s also important to mention the banter we have in the office. There’s plenty of amusement at times when we get a call from someone and they think they’re talking to Kelvin Chell when they’ve actually got me on the line instead. We’ve been getting each other’s mail and messages for years and it’s caused plenty of amusement.
KC: Couldn’t agree more! It’s always a laugh when that happens. As I come first in the alphabet, I’ve seen a few interesting emails over the years that I maybe shouldn’t have seen. Definitely given me a chuckle or two!
KK: We’re the two longest serving I think and our brigade numbers are quite low – so we know where we stand. It’s nice to know that people use us as a point of experience and knowledge. Over the years we’ve dealt with the vast majority of things so we can always provide comment on an idea and say if it has or hasn’t worked before.
What advice would I give a young Kelvin today? Keep your mind open, learn from experienced people and enjoy every day. These two Kelvins are coming closer to stepping away and we are prone to looking back on the memories – that’s much easier with a scrapbook, so keep one of them too.
KC: I’d encourage anyone to join the fire brigade. It’s a secure job and a great career - a real job for life. You get to help people and are widely respected in the community. Don’t dismiss what it can do for you - go for it.