Oxfordshire’s longest serving firefighter celebrates 40 years ...... surprise-surprise ceremony!

A BURFORD on-call firefighter thought he was participating in a breathing apparatus exercise, only to discover he was centre stage in a surprise ceremony to mark his 40 years’ service.

Charlie Williams is Oxfordshire’s longest serving firefighter

The 62-year-old prides himself on making a difference to the local community, but doesn’t like to make a fuss.

So, when asked to wear his gas mask during a training scenario, the last thing he expected when entering Burford School Hall was rapturous applause from 75 guests, secretly assembled to commemorate his career milestone.

“It was an amazing surprise. Even my family kept the secret plan from me,” said Charlie.

“I do this wonderful job because I enjoy making a difference to the local community. I haven’t been counting the years, so to discover I’d reached 40 was nearly as big a shock as the ceremony!”

On-call firefighters normally have full-time jobs outside the service, with the flexibility to drop everything at a moment’s notice when they get an emergency call.

Charlie is a long-time resident of Burford, where he runs his family business; a car repair workshop.

He explains: “My uncle shaped my career path. He also ran our company alongside being an on-call firefighter.

“I joined Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service in February 1979, working through the ranks to become watch manager at Burford nearly a decade later.

“Burford Fire Station is run entirely by on-call firefighters. I manage a team of 15. We get around three-calls a week; that’s over 150 a year!”

Charlie has attended many major incidents, including a fire that gutted the Bull Hotel in 1982, and a huge blaze at Godwin Pumps in Quenington, Glos, tackled by firefighters from two counties.

He was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2016, nominated by the then Chief Fire Officer, Dave Etheridge, for services to the community. Charlie summed up the honour in one word, “Overwhelming.”

At the surprise 40th anniversary ceremony, last week, Charlie was presented with a glass plaque, and malt whisky in a commemorative case. Recognition for his dedication to a thriving community; helping Oxfordshire residents to live safe and healthy lives.

Simon Furlong, Chief Fire Officer for Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Charlie’s dedication has been unwavering over four decades.

“Being an on-call firefighter is rewarding, but needs a 24/7 commitment. Charlie is an inspiration to everyone in the team; a fantastic role model.”

In accepting the recognition at his surprise ceremony, Charlie said: “I want to thank everyone from fellow firefighters to friends and business colleagues. But my biggest tribute is to my wife Helen, and my daughters Katie and Rebecca.

“When we sit at the meal table, go shopping, or enjoy an evening socialising; we know our plans could be disrupted at any moment by a message on my emergency pager.

“We’ve come to expect these short notice interruptions, but I never take my family’s understanding and support for granted. Thank you, Helen Katie and Rebecca.”

For further information about how to become an on-call firefighter, like Charlie, visit the website: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/oncallfirefighters or email fire.recruitment@oxfordshire.gov.uk