A FIREFIGHTER from Fordingbridge is retiring after battling blazes and saving lives for 42 years.

Stephen Coles joined Fordingbridge Fire Service in 1970, at the age of 18 – following in the footsteps of his father Ken.

During Mr Coles’ career he has tackled some of the area’s most notorious blazes, saved hundreds of people from car wrecks and was the leading firefighter and first on the scene when the horrific murders were committed at Burgate House in Fordingbridge in 1986.

A dinner party ended in horror when handyman George Stephenson massacred a family of four and their nurse in one of the most shocking crimes committed in Hampshire.

Mr Coles said: “I was the first fireman on the scene. It was horrendous. How anybody could do that to five human beings is unbelievable. I have seen some appalling things in my time but never anything like those murders.”

Mr Coles joined the service just five days after attending his first Sunday morning drill.

“As a youngster I would go out with my mates on a Saturday night but my dad got fed up with me sleeping in on a Sunday morning. He encouraged me to attend a Sunday morning drill, which I did, and less than a week later, I was a part-time firefighter.”

Mr Coles has risen through the ranks throughout his career and will be leaving his Watch Manager post on his retirement in December.

“I have loved serving the community and helping all those people who have been in need, and saving lives in the process,” he said.

“The job has been so rewarding and exciting. When the bleeper goes off, you never know what you will be doing from one minute to the next but know you will be helping somebody.

“Fordingbridge Fire Service is a close-knit family. Over the years we have had five sons who have worked alongside their fathers.

“The lads are great and I watched many of them growing up. I will miss them.”

Station commander Ben Smith said: “Steve has made an outstanding contribution to Fordingbridge and Hampshire as a whole. To serve for 42 years is a lifetime achievement and for half of that he has been responsible for the day-to-day running of the station.

“Along with resolving literally thousands of incidents in that time, Steve has also seen lots of changes with the modernisation of the fire service.

“Steve has had a long and successful career. His retirement will mean a big change for him and a big change for the station.”