THEY are the every-day heroes who bravely risk their lives to battle blazes and towering infernos.
But what do Andover’s firefighters do when they aren’t in the throes of fighting flames?
Advertiser reporter James Robinson went for a ride with Andover’s White Watch to find out...
IF proof was ever needed that I’m just a big kid at heart then last week certainly provided it.
I haven’t been in a fire engine since my schooldays and I admit carrying a childish smile as I walked up London Street and towards Andover Fire Station.
My smile only intensified as I approached the red-clad building to see a glistening fire truck primed and ready to go.
I was about to go on my first ride-along.
But from the start this was never meant to be some all-action, fast paced, firefighting adventure.
I was there to see something different, something equally important – if not a little more mundane.
That did little to curb my enthusiasm as I carefully climbed into the truck, wary of the unsuitability of my clunky suit shoes.
I sat side-by-side my new White Watch colleagues as we quietly cruised through the streets of Andover on our way to Charlton – the scene of the “action”.
(White Watch arrive in Charlton)
But there were no blue lights, no panic, no blaze – just a quiet community going about its business and the fire crew about to begin theirs.
I was joining the close-knit team on what’s known as a “Safe and Well Visit”
– an initiative which aims to improve both the fire safety and living conditions of vulnerable residents.
Working on the advice of partnership authorities, such as paramedics, doctors and council officials, the fire service can pin-point homes where the occupants are vulnerable or susceptible to falls.
The team then visit the residents to check their homes for potential trip and fire hazards, as well as their general well-being.
The crew can then report their findings back to other authorities – who can take relevant action if necessary.
Describing one case, watch manager Kevin Francis, said: “I remember we went to one older guy’s home and he was just sitting there freezing cold in his arm chair with a blanket wrapped around him.
“The house was absolutely freezing cold and his heating hadn’t been on in ages because when we did turn it on it stunk.
“We informed the relevant authorities and few months later he was taken into a care home.
“See, that’s the good thing with the fire service.
“People tend to let us in whereas other services like the police and council they might turn away.
“He’d obviously been left on his own for a while. I feel like we really helped him.”
With that in mind, we checked our list and headed to the first home.
Knock, knock... no answer.
“It’s the middle of the day – they are probably out enjoying the sun,” Kevin joked.
Undeterred, we headed to the next door on the list.
This time there was a response.
An elderly woman came to the door and, after some initial confusion, we were invited inside.
I watched as Kevin inspected for fire hazards while colleague Heather Hedger sat down with the resident to fill out a Safe and Well questionnaire.
“She’s obviously well cared for – her house is clean, her walkways are clear and there are notes to help her remember things,” Kevin said. “Although I don’t see why she needs that extension plug.
“We don’t like them because if they pull out slightly they can spark and that can start a fire.
“I can’t make her get rid of it but I can’t recommend that she does [keep it].”
Survey and fire check complete, Kevin gave his advice and we headed back to the truck.
While we completed the visit, Mike Saunders, Mark Joret and Simon Corlett remained outside, testing water supplies and spray painting the floor covers.
Unglamorous work, but important.
It means the crew now have a reliable source of water to tap into if they attend a fire in the area, while the paint means the covers are now more visible to drivers – who may otherwise park over them.
Equipment packed, we headed off to our next stop – Enham Alamein.
Just like before, we parked up, I steadily climbed down in my horribly unsuitable suit shoes and we headed for the first property.
Standing there was a rather stunned Madeleine Lyons.
(Madeleine Lyons meets Andover's White Watch team)
“What have I done?” she nervously joked.
Kevin laughs: “You’re in trouble.”
“Just kidding, we are here to do a Safe and Well visit.”
“You had me worried for a second,”
she said, exhaling deeply.
“Can my neighbour join?,” the 70-year-old added.
Kevin chuckled: “Of course – a two-for-one special offer.”
Much like before, Heather sat down with the residents while Kevin inspected for fire hazards.
This time I sat with her and listened as she slowly weaved her way down the questionnaire.
Kevin returns and looks up at the ceiling.
“That fire alarm, does it work?”
“It’s run out of batteries I think – I’ll sort that out,” Mrs Lyons nervously replied.
Kevin reached into his bag and pulled out a box.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go one better.”
He began fitting a brand new fire alarm.
“Oh wow! Thank you!” a shocked Madeleine said.
With Heather’s questionnaire complete, Kevin added his fire advice and we began to pack our stuff.
“You seem quite surprised that the fire service do this?” I asked.
“Yes very surprised. I’ve never heard of it before,” she replied.
“I think it’s brilliant though, it’s made me think about a few things.”
“And I’ve got a brand new fire alarm” she laughed.
We packed up and headed back to the station, with not a single blue light in sight.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was slightly disappointed not to be thrust into the action of a live fire – what person wouldn’t?
(Advertiser Senior Reporter James Robinson (centre) with Andover White Watch)
But my mission that day was to learn more about the fire service – and I did.
Being a firefighter is not all about fighting fire, it’s about helping people.
Whether that be by dragging them safely from a burning building, or simply giving out a piece of advice that can stop a fire in the first place – it all counts.
But has Safe and Well actually been a success?
Kevin thinks so.
He said: “It’s hard to say in terms of numbers because obviously you can never say how many fires you’ve prevented.
“But I think it does make a difference to people.
“Like that older guy in the armchair – now he’s getting the care he needs “I’d like to think we are making a difference to people’s lives.”
So the next time you see a fire engine parked outside your house, two firefighters knocking at your door and your house isn’t on fire – don’t panic.
Perhaps they need you to move your car or require information about a fire.
Or perhaps, they are just there to make sure you are safe and well.