Firefighter draws 49-year career to a close

Norman RyleyA firefighter from Blagdon, who overcame a childhood fear of fire to embark upon a career spanning nearly half a century, will retire from operational duty this month.

Watch Manager Norman Ryley, 65, will ride on a fire engine for the last time on Wednesday 2 April, bringing down the curtain on 49 years of service as a retained firefighter.

Norman joined Somerset County Fire Brigade in 1965 aged 17 when the ‘Green Goddess’ fire engines were still in service. He spent the first two years of his career at Chew Magna Fire Station, although his first shout was not the first time he had ridden on a fire engine.

Norman said: “My father was a retained Station Officer who worked at Blagdon for 33 years. As boy I was terrified of fire and used to have regular nightmares about it. When I was 12 we were having dinner one day when my father was called out to the biggest heath fire I can remember. To cure my fear of fire he took me with him on the fire engine to see the fire – and it obviously worked.”

In 1967 Norman moved to Blagdon Fire Station as a firefighter, and in 47 years that followed he was promoted to the role of Watch Manager, the most senior operational role at the station.

Like many of Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s retained firefighters Norman spent a career balancing family life and a career as a self-employed motor mechanic with the demands of the job.

Following the formation of the County of Avon in 1974, Avon Fire Brigade, which later became Avon Fire & Rescue Service, was created. However a change of the service’s name is not the only change Norman has seen during a long career.

“There’s no doubt the equipment we have now means firefighters are much safer than when I started. Back when I started we didn’t have breathing apparatus and we used to have plastic leggings which would melt when they got too hot. It wasn’t unusual to come back from a fire and find them a foot shorter than when you started.

Reflecting on his career Norman said he is proud of the job he has done and in particular the help he has been able to provide to local people.

He said: “Working as a retained duty firefighter in a village like Blagdon means we often know the people we are going to help. In that respect it’s never felt like a job, but a vocation. No matter what, we always want to be there so the communities we work in can rely on us.”

Norman will retire from operational duty with the service on Wednesday 2 April, just a few days after he turns 66 years-old.