Crew Commander James Thompson

At the tender age of 18, James tried applying for the fire service: "It didn't get me anywhere; I was young, immature and it showed on my application.

"Why did I apply? To be honest, I was a young, mixed race boy in a school where I didn't get any careers advice. It's one of those jobs that used to be on every young man's list of things they'd like to do and I was no exception."

After training and working as a plasterer for five years, James tried again and was successful.

He explains: "Joining the fire service was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was life changing and it gave me a home and a career.

"Being a firefighter was everything you wanted it to be. Although I did have to grow up quite quickly as I was very immature. Working at Huntingdon at the start of my career I had some of the biggest jobs I've ever had, especially when it came to large fires.

"There would be periods of quiet but I was always into my training and there is always something that needs doing."

James continues: "I like being a firefighter and I still think it's unique - it's definitely not a normal job. For someone like me who is kinaesthetic it's a great job. It's always interesting; whether it's training on the new equipment or procedures, or going out to a job. You're always learning.

"Firefighters earn prestige and some see it as quite elitist. When I was younger I definitely had that mindset - but nowadays I think people look up to firefighters because we earn it."

After serving as a firefighter for 23 years, James has seen himself change. He reflects: "You have to adapt your senses and work ethic. You have to be extremely flexible and adaptable, which sometimes was hard for me as a young man. You have responsibility and are accountable and become a better person because of it.

"Over the years, it rubs off on you and becomes who you are. Some people are very different at work to who they are at home but for me, over time, the two have intertwined and I'm a better person for it."

Now, James has been reinvigorated and wants a new challenge. He explains: "The opportunity has always been there to progress and I did act up at times but I doubted myself and I've been lazy. Now, I'm ready. I've managed people and managed situations and most importantly I can see how I've developed. I've naturally evolved and grown up so now I expect more of myself.

"I've decided to reach out and take the step up to crew commander. I've got years of experience and I hope I will be able to share that with others now.

"It's about more now than riding the fire engine. It's about taking what I've learned from numerous management systems and working with other people to get the best from a team. That's why I've decided to start the management road now, even though some may think it's a little late, it's right for me."