Fighting fires for 44 years

Maurice Hodgson.
Maurice Hodgson.

When a teenage Maurice Hodgson first applied to become a retained fire fighter his interview for the job was basic to say the least.

“They asked me my age, and if I could climb a ladder and run out a length of hose. That was my interview!”

Forty-four years later, Maurice is still fighting fires at the age of 63.

After more than four decades of climbing ladders, rolling out hoses and saving lives, and 24 years as manager of Bolton-le-Sands fire station, the modest family man has been honoured with a British Empire Medal.

Born in Whitehaven, Maurice was educated at Bolton-le-Sands primary school and Carnforth High.

He was an apprentice joiner when he first joined Bolton-le-Sands fire service in 1970, aged 19. His first job was a chimney fire at Church Brow.

“Back then the siren for the fire station used to be on top of McGaffigans blacksmith workshop in the village,” he said.

“All the firefighters had to have jobs within the sound of the siren.

“Sometimes the Carnforth siren would go off and we’d think it was ours, and turn out by mistake.”

Technology has advanced and now Maurice carries a pager, and has a fire bell in his home.

As a retained or part-time fire fighter, the job is not his main profession. He has worked for years as a self-employed builder, on call 24/7 for emergency call-outs to fires.

The most horrifying incident Maurice ever attended was the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy.

He modestly downplays his role in the mission to locate survivors and bodies that fateful night when 23 Chinese cocklers perished in the bay, saying “we did what we had to do”.

“The people who did all the work there was the lifeboat crew and the ambulance service.

“We did find two people who were in a barn. That was due to local knowledge and knowing where to look. One of them was in a tractor, hiding from the police.

“We were called out because we have a thermal imaging camera. They thought they could shine it out into the bay to pick up heat on a body.”

Maurice has also been called out to many other major blazes over the years, such as last year’s fire which destroyed the Megazone in Morecambe.

He doesn’t like to talk about these incidents.

“There’s no bravado in it.

“The worst thing is when you come across children in road accidents.”

Although Maurice said he was “honoured but surprised” to receive the award, it is an honour he clearly deserves.

His citation calls him “an exemplar of what communities across the UK could wish for from their on-call firefighters, since he has balanced all of the demands placed on him superbly for 44 years without a break in service or reduction in performance or effort in any way.”

A married father of three and grandfather of four, Maurice is fiercely proud of the role and of his team of 12 retained fire fighters at the small Bolton-le-Sands fire station.

They include a plumber, a farmer, a physical instructor, a teacher and a bar manager.

Maurice wants to do everything possible to promote the role of the retained fire fighter, because numbers are down.

The pressure of balancing more than one career with a home life and perhaps voluntary service is something that not everyone can live up to and the turnover of on-call firefighter staff is comparatively high.

“Local lads work very hard doing a very difficult job at times in their own profession, then come out at all times of day and night to the scene of some horrendous incidents,” said Maurice.

“We always need more retained fire fighters. Carnforth, Arnside and Milnthorpe are particularly struggling for numbers.

“If you live within six minutes of your local fire station and want to do something to help your local community we’d love to hear from you.”

Anyone interested in becoming a retained fire fighter is welcome to go along to Bolton-le-Sands fire station to meet Maurice and the crew during drill on Tuesday nights from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.