Firefighter recalls action-packed career in Bracknell
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Retired retained firefighter, Ralph Webb, has said a sad goodbye to his Bracknell colleagues.
A BRAVE Birch Hill firefighter, who faced one of the biggest forest fires in the country, saved seven people from a burning building and had a brush with death, has retired after a 32-year career.
Ralph Webb dedicated about 72 hours a week to being on-call as a retained firefighter at Bracknell station, rushing to the scene of fires and crashes across the borough.
"Every time the pager goes off, I have to rush out," the 58-year-old explained. "With this job, if you're married, you've got to have a partner that's prepared to put up with that!"
But the grandfather-of-three told the News that he has enjoyed his time in the service, despite the early starts. He said that he has seen so many exciting, terrifying and saddening things in his time that there are simply too many to mention them all.
"The biggest of course was Swinley Forest," he said. "When we got up there the devastation was unbelievable. We literally had to run at times because the fire was overtaking us."
The Birch Hill resident spent nearly four days helping to contain the raging blaze at Swinley in May 2011, and on the first day alone spent 15 straight hours pumping water onto the burning trees.
And the events at Swinley Forest are far from his worst experience. He spoke about times where he had to free a motorcyclist trapped under a bus in Farnborough, and when he rescued seven residents from a blazing block of flats in Hanworth.
The one that sticks with him the most happened more than 20 years ago however, when three Scouts were trapped inside a burning, derelict house in Harmans Water - only two of which escaped with their lives.
He said: "Things like that just stick with you, it was really bad and shouldn't have happened."
Ralph even did a farewell handshake with a fellow firefighter when on another job in Harmans Water, because he thought they were both going to die, recalling: "When I came home my sons cried when they saw me. My face was so red, like I'd been badly sunburnt, and so were my hands."
But despite spending 32 years being ready to face anything, the former MOD fire service worker had a heart attack in 2009 and decided to take early retirement.
He said: "I'm going to miss everyone and would like to say thanks to all my colleagues - past and present - and members of the public for their support.
"It was very rewarding - I did get a kick out of it - and had some great watch managers.
"I'm looking forward to going to bed now without thinking about my pager going off!" he added.
Ralph and wife Lorraine plan to travel - which will start with a trip to Crete in June - and also hope to spend more time with their two sons and grandchildren in Norfolk.
The couple eventually hope to move to Norfolk, however Ralph still works shifts as a security man for a Bracknell firm.
This article appeared in Bracknell News 21 Feb 13