Posted: Friday 1st June 2018
Gerald Busby, 73, has worked for HFRS in different roles since 1973. We caught up with him to look back on his time so far with the Service.
Gerald Busby, 73, has lived in Markyate since he was two years old. His father, a farmer, bought a shop on the high street to sell produce from local farms, including their own.
In the early 1970s, while working in his father’s shop, Gerald was approached by the sub-officer from Markyate Fire Station, a regular customer, who would often come into the shop to ask Gerald to swap the coins he earned from selling newspapers for notes.
Gerald said: “I was being pestered for some time by the sub-officer about joining the Service, so eventually went down to the station to discover what it was all about. The fire station was only 100 yards away, and they really needed local people who would be around to respond to incidents during the day.”
Impressed by what he saw, and up for a challenge, Gerald joined Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service, then Hertfordshire Fire and Ambulance Brigade, as an on-call firefighter in 1973.
On top of working in the family shop, Gerald was called out to an average of 100 incidents every year in his village.
“Most of the incidents we were called to were on the M1 – so we were often responding to road traffic collisions and vehicle fires. There was no lighting on the motorways in those days, so if you were responding to a call at night then you would work in the dark.”
“With some of the tougher incidents we attended, we coped together as a group. We would go back to the station and have a cup of tea together. Going back to work wasn’t so bad because you could distract yourself, but returning home and trying to get to sleep after a tough incident was harder.”
Gerald soon worked his way up the ranks and became the sub officer in charge at Markyate Fire Station in 1979.
As officer in charge, Gerald enjoyed creating training scenarios for his on-call crews.
“I used contacts in the local community, including farmers and small industries, to set up training sessions. Our DO gave me free reign as long as I took responsibility for the scenarios – that’s definitely not the case anymore!”
Living and working in Markyate, Gerald often knew the people involved in the incidents he attended locally. “There was a real community feel as an on-call firefighter, because you knew a lot of the people you were helping. Some of the crew lived in Markyate but worked elsewhere, but with my day job in the shop, I knew a lot of faces from the community. The downside is that it can be harder to separate yourself from the job when you know the person involved. I still live in Markyate so I still see some of the people I’ve helped at incidents now – you never forget them.”
A career move
As larger supermarkets became more commonplace in the 1980s, Gerald and his family found that their small shop was struggling.
“In 1985, I saw an advert for Fire Control operators in Hertford, and by 1986 I had a new job there. For the first six months, my wife and I tried to run the shop while I did shift work at Control, and continued in my on-call role at Markyate.
“With four children, it soon became clear that we had to make a choice in our busy lives, so we sold the shop.”
The move was a change for Gerald: he had much more job security. “I’d been self-employed for about 24 years, so to get paid for holidays and have a prescribed start and finish time was… enlightening!”
We asked Gerald if working in Control helped him in his role as a firefighter. “Actually, it’s the other way round. Working in Fire Control, I could imagine what was going on at the other end of the radio, which helped me work out whether extra support might be needed at an incident. The terminology wasn’t new to me in the way it was to other new starters in Control, and I was used to using a radio. It felt like different sides of the same coin.”
Sometimes, Gerald would have send out a fire engine from his own village. “It was extremely annoying to turn out your own pump when you weren’t on it!”
Were there any particularly memorable incidents he had to send his colleagues in Markyate to?
“One time, I took a call about an incident very close to home. A lorry had been driving through Markyate in the early hours, slightly too fast, when it couldn’t brake fast enough to take a corner near a hill opposite my house. The lorry went straight into the house next door. My wife was at home, and was woken up by the noise. Luckily our house wasn’t affected, but my wife went round to check on the elderly couple who lived in the now partially-demolished house next door. She made her way up the stairs, which were barely standing, but entering their room, found them safe, sound, and fast asleep!
“The only casualty was my daughter’s wedding cake which had been sitting made up in their front room!”
In 2000, aged 56, Gerald retired from his role as an on-call firefighter. He had served at Markyate for over 20 years.
“The role definitely changed in my 27 years at Markyate. Towards the end of my time there, you could see a vast difference in the equipment we used; we got close to having the same resources as wholetime crews – although we didn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to training.”
Gerald still observes the changes to the Service at Fire Control. “When the Chief comes to visit now, he’ll call you by your Christian name – that definitely wasn’t the case in 1973!”
Looking back at his career in Fire Control, Gerald can see how much the technology has improved. “The steps you take aren’t always big steps, but they are a series of small, important, and challenging steps. You get a lot more training now too – before I got the job in Control, I hardly touched a keyboard. Training was two weeks with the officer in charge, and then you were put on a desk!”
“My favourite thing about working in Control now is the people I work with. They’re all a lot younger than me which I find encouraging; it’s exciting to work with them.”
Gerald planned to retire from Herts Fire Control in March 2012, as his wife had become ill. Shortly before his last day on the job, Gerald’s wife sadly passed away.
“Lisa Jackson phoned me soon after to let me know that there was a job share available if I wanted to come back to work – it meant I would be doing one “tour” on and one tour off with Red Watch.”
Gerald re-joined Control in July 2012, and moved across to Blue Watch in May 2016. He isn’t planning to retire anytime soon.
“My children all say say “if” I retire – nobody says “when”. I’m still very much enjoying what I do. My days could just be spent going on holidays or looking after grandchildren, but I can still combine those things with working! It’s the best of both worlds.”