The Independent London Newspaper

 

Country’s longest serving black firefighter to retire after 32 years’ memorable service

Winston Douglas

Winston Douglas, proud role model: ‘I’ve made it a priority to promote women and minority groups in my time’

Published: 16 December, 2016
by JOE COOPER

THE longest serving black firefighter in the country is retiring after 32 years’ service. Winston Douglas spoke of his pride at being a role model for minorities trying to break into what is traditionally seen as a white, male job.

“I’ve made it a priority to promote women and minority groups in my time,” said the 52-year-old. “When people see our crews, I want them to see themselves. When we do talks at schools and colleges, I don’t want 11 white males there. If they see someone who looks like them, they might think, ‘I could be a firefighter too’.”

Mr Douglas recalled attending a fire in a flat belonging to a black family. Once it was dealt with, the mother grabbed him and pushed her four sons towards him for a photograph to show them what they could aspire to.

He retires today (Friday) but he’s not been slowing down in his last few weeks in the job. Although he’s based in Upper Street, Mr Douglas was the first senior officer on the scene at the recent Croydon tram crash tragedy, and he was commanding the teams who were pumping out the gallons of water which flooded homes in Devonia Road last week.

Boundless energy and enthusiasm have earned him respect across the London Fire Brigade (LFB). When he spoke to the Tribune at the station on Wednesday, Mr Douglas said he had cycled from Croydon at 6am before hitting the gym and then starting his shift. It’s not unusual for him to work four 12-hour days before starting a 24-hour shift – it drives his partner, Sharon, mad. “She can’t understand where I get the energy from!” he adds.

Mr Douglas, who has an 18-year-old daughter, Dominique, says he is proud of his Islington team. This year they’ve achieved the best turnout times – the time between a call coming in and the fire engine leaving the station – in the whole of London. The target is 60 seconds.

He has worked across the capital, starting at Clerkenwell in 1985, with stints at Clapham, Croydon, Wandsworth and Holloway. And though he’s excited about the next stage in his life, Mr Douglas  sings the praises of the job.

“This really is the best job in the world for me,” he said, beaming. “People talk about wanting to be a footballer or a rock star, but if I knew at school what this job was like, I would’ve signed up straight away.”

He was working in a factory job in his native south London when he approached a fire brigade recruitment stall and never looked back.

Mr Douglas’s jolly demeanour belies the fact that firefighting can be an incredibly tough job. At the 1988 Clapham Junction rail crash, in which 35 people died, he and a colleague were instructed to pick up body parts from the tracks. 

But he remembers lighter incidents, too, including one in which a man got his head stuck in a cell door at King's Cross police station.

A lot of the job now involves fire prevention and community work.

“But there’s no hiding the fact that most of us like going out there and saving people and property,” Mr Douglas added. “I can’t emphasise how much I’ve enjoyed working with the fire brigade.”

He plans to spend time with family in Miami next year before seeing some of the world. He said he has been offered other jobs but is taking some time to consider his options, adding: “I think I deserve a break!”

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