'You build your life around it' - Firefighting legend hangs up boots after 48 years
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
A Suffolk firefighting legend is hanging up his boots for the last time after almost five decades.
John Last was 19 years old when he joined Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service as an on-call firefighter in Leiston, where he was the station manager for the last 20 years.
"It's obviously been a very long journey," he said.
"It all started for me because my father was an on-call firefighter and I was aware of his involvement in serving the community.
"Being brought up in a household where there was an on-call firefighter, I knew all about the job, and it's something that I felt I wanted to put something back into.
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"I never expected it to be 48 years."
Mr Last says it's making a difference to people that kept him in the job so long.
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"Whenever you had a call you knew that somebody needed help somewhere along the line," he said.
"That was always something that you felt when you went out the door you were helping somebody that might be in danger.
"You felt the job satisfaction that you made a difference by attending an incident.
"It's not always been good outcomes. There's always outcomes that are not how you want them to be."
The nature of firefighting in Suffolk means that crews can often be called from across the county to deal with incidents in different places.
As a result Mr Last has been involved in some of the county's biggest fires in the past 50 years including the Lowestoft Hippodrome fire in 1999, the fire at Centre Parcs in Elveden in 2002 and the fire at Premier Foods factory in Bury St Edmunds, where Branston Pickle was made, in 2004.
"The big incidents like that do stick in your mind," he said.
"It's the day to day incidents which are not on that scale which are just as important.
"It might be an elderly person living on their own that might have an issue. You feel just as much job satisfaction going to help people like that."
As well as helping people and taking part in some of the large scale fires Mr Last's career has seen him help the animal kingdom; including a fair few cats stuck up trees.
"I've attended cats up trees, I've attended seagulls suspended from buildings and trees with fishing wires," he said.
"I've had dogs out of rabbit holes and ponds."
Mr Last believes he had been to several thousand incidents across his five decades in the service.
Now, however, he has retired from the fire service completely and focuses on other roles such as being the chairman at Leiston Town Council.
"For 48 years it's a part of your life, you build your life around it," said Mr Last.
"There's all sorts of things the general public probably wouldn't appreciate.
"For instance if you are out and about in the town you have to think about where you are going to park because if you get a call you have to get back to your car and quickly to the fire station.
"You try to work your leisure activities around the fire service.
"Now I am at a stage where I don't have to think like that anymore."
Mr Last's service has been recognised at the highest level: in December 2019 he was awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours List.
"At the end of the day I take that as recognition of the work that all my colleagues do," he said.
"But 48 years is a long time so it's nice to be recognised along with my wider services to the community."
He puts his longevity in the fire service down to the support of his family and employers over the years.
"I wouldn't have achieved 48 years service without the support of my wife and family," he said.
""I would be lying if I told you I wouldn't miss it.
"It's also been an honour and a pleasure to work with all the people at Suffolk Fire and Rescue over the years. I leave the station in very capable hands.
"I'm sure I will keep a keen eye on what Suffolk Fire and Rescue do in the future."
To anyone considering joining the fire service, Mr Last said: "If you want to be part of a team and you want to put something back into your community and help people it's an obvious choice.
"It might be refreshing to do something different and at the same time anyone working in their primary employment can bring skills to the service.
"I think they would find it very rewarding."