Two members of the original intake of the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service have told their stories on the 50th anniversary of the Service. 

On April 1, 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War, a fire service covering County Durham was first established.

In 1974 the reorganisation of local government boundaries saw the County Borough Fire Brigade of Darlington merged with what was then known as Durham Fire Brigade.

To mark 50 years since these changes took place, the Service reached out to firefighters and staff members past, asking them to share their stories.

The original intake of the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue ServiceThe original intake of the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (Image: CDDFRS)

Among those to get in touch were members of the 1974 S1 Intake – the first group of firefighters to complete their training as part of the new look Service. 

And on Thursday (June 13), 50 years after that initial celebration, many of the surviving members of the original intake, along with tutors, reunited at the Queen's Head in Framwellgate to enjoy a pint and reminisce about ‘the good old days’.

Celebrating 50 years, Chief Fire Officer Steve Helps said: “2024 is a big year for us as we mark 50 years since the County Durham and Darlington Brigades joined together.

“As a Service, we’re committed to looking to the future as we strive to do the best for our communities.

Some of the original cohort in FramwellgateSome of the original cohort in Framwellgate (Image: CDDFRS)

“But we equally know and appreciate that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the dedicated service of all those firefighters who came before us.

“I want to thank these firefighters for their service, and I am delighted to see their bond has endured all these years.”

The Chair of the Combined Fire Authority, councillor John Shuttleworth added: “CDDFRS is an amazing Service and every firefighter and staff member past and present should be immensely proud of their contributions.”

50 Years: Meet 1974 recruit Ian Ferguson

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!”

Ian FergusonIan Ferguson (Image: CDDFRS)

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 was 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!”

50 Years: Meet 1974 recruit Eric Robson

It’s been 50 years since Eric Robson became a Firefighter, but not a day goes by when he doesn’t look back on his career with pride.

The 68-year-old said it was his Firefighter dad, Tommy Robson, who inspired him to join half a century ago.

“My dad was a Firefighter serving in Jarrow and Hebburn and my uncle, Rob Stoves, was also in the Fire Service as a Station Officer at Durham,” Eric said.

“I was brought up with some knowledge of the job through this family connection.

“As a child, I would go to the Christmas parties on the stations and pop into Hebburn Fire Station when my dad was on duty during the school holidays.”

Following his training, Eric worked as a Firefighter in Peterlee and Fence Houses before transferring to Cleveland Fire Brigade in 1977.

Eric RobsonEric Robson (Image: CDDFRS)

There, he rose through the ranks to become Assistant District Officer and spent three years on secondment at the Fire Service College.

Eric then moved to South Wales where he worked as Training Officer and Deputy Divisional Commander for Gwent Fire Brigade before it became part of South Wales Fire Service.

His varied career also included a stint as Assistant Inspector of Fire Services and a lecturing role at Coventry University.

Eric retired on March 31, 2006, after nearly 34 years in the Fire Service and said he loved every minute of it.

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“It is the best job in the world and I would do it all over again in an instant,” Eric said.

“I’m proud to have been one of the first-ever cohorts under the new boundary change.

“I’m also proud to have been a Firefighter and to have served the community.”

The dad-of-three continued: “My advice to anyone who wants to be a Firefighter would be to study hard and get fit.

“Once you are lucky enough to be a Firefighter, decide what path you want your career to go down and how to achieve that.

“There are so many roles available.”