Retiring Watch Commander describes fire service as one of the most caring professions out there

A watch commander retiring from the fire service after more than 30 years has described his profession as “one of the most caring professions out there.”

Watch Commander John ‘Cloddy’ Chelton, from Wisbech Fire Station, is retiring from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service after 33 years.

“It is a rare thing to work for the Fire Service. I do think we are one of the most caring professions out there, along with nursing. We generally go out there and no matter what type of things we see, we will just help as much as we can and clean up as much as we possibly can and that is the bit I am going to miss.

“I have never come across so many caring people. I will miss everyone terribly.”

John joined Thorney Fire Station as an on-call firefighter in 1984, aged 19 and said it was the caring element of the job that first attracted him to the wholetime profession.

“What made me want to be a wholetime firefighter was when I went out to a road traffic collision where a man was trapped in a lorry and I just wanted to do something to help. It’s getting that big feeling of satisfaction of actually helping someone.”

John became a wholetime firefighter two years later, in 1986, and joined Huntingdon Fire Station where he worked for four years. He then moved to Dogsthorpe Fire Station before being promoted to leading firefighter (the equivalent of today’s crew commander) at Cambridge. After Cambridge, he returned to Huntingdon, then moved to Stanground, before finishing his career at Wisbech, where he has worked for the past 10 years.

“Firefighters need to go round to different stations because it regenerates things and gives you all these different skills. I totally enjoyed moving around.”

John said he had lots of memories from his time in the Service.
“One of the funniest calls we had was a grandmother calling us up because she had been cleaning her grandson’s hamster cage and she had sucked the hamster up the hoover by mistake. We ended up going out to the job to try and help the hamster but unfortunately it didn’t survive.”

He was also part of the first watch to show up at a fire at Peterborough Cathedral after a tea light candle had set fire to plastic chairs, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.
“I was part of the watch– that was first in attendance that fateful night. We helped save Peterborough Cathedral from burning down without a doubt. The fire did thousands and thousands of pounds worth of damage but if it wasn’t for the quick actions of the crews we could have lost the whole cathedral.”

His varied career also included an appearance in three episodes of London’s Burning, the ITV drama based on the lives of members of London Fire Brigade which ran from 1988 to 2002.

John, 52, who lives in Chatteris, hopes he will stay in touch with some of his fire service colleagues in his new role as an enforcement officer for Peterborough City Council, where he will work alongside the police and fire service.

He thanked everyone in the fire service for their support over his career and praised his wife, Angela, and daughters, Hannah, 21, and Rebecca, 17, for their understanding over the years.

“They have had to put up with wanting to go places and not being able to and all the nights and weekends. And it’s the support you get after you have gone out to those horrid jobs and you come home and have to try and live a normal life. It can be difficult sometimes so the understanding and support I have had is incredible.”

Both daughters are keen horse riders who compete against professional riders; Hannah as a British showjumper and Rebecca in British Eventing. John said he now plans to put even more time into supporting their riding.

Station Commander Brett Mills, of Wisbech Fire Station, said: “I would like to thank John for his dedication and commitment to CFRS over the past 33 years. During his career, John has attended a wide variety of incidents and helped a lot of people in their time of need. His experience will be missed and I would like to wish him and his family all the best for the future.”

Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland visited John on his last day at Huntingdon Station, where John began his career with the Service, and said: “John will be a hard act to follow.”