Crew Manager celebrates his 50th year of service to the communities of West Sussex

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service’s longest serving firefighter is celebrating five decades of dedicated service to his local communities.

Andy Horner joined Selsey Fire Station as a retained firefighter on 1 March 1973 and has since served alongside his wife and two sons, who also pursued careers in the service.

After becoming a firefighter, Andy got a job in Selsey working as a builder to ensure that he could provide 24-hour fire cover. Speaking about the early days of his career, Andy said: “A friend I played football with told me that he joined Selsey Fire Station as a retained firefighter – I didn’t know too much about the fire service and had never considered it as a career, but I went to visit the station, and the rest is history!

“Back in those days the fire stations had loud air raid sirens that would go off when there was an incident. When you heard the sirens, you would have to stop what you were doing and make your way to the fire station. We’d often hear the sirens from East Wittering and Bognor Fire Stations when the wind was blowing in a western direction and turn up at the fire station for an incident we weren’t mobilised to!”

After 18 months at Selsey, Andy then became a wholetime firefighter and served the communities of Worthing, Horley and Chichester, as well as working for the service’s training team.

In 1977, Andy met Bernice – a fire control room operator at Chichester Fire Station – and the pair married the following year. They went on to have three children – a daughter called Bethan and two sons, Nick and Pete. Both Nick and Pete decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and became firefighters in 2003 and 2004.

Nick Horner is now a Group Manager for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service’s Organisational Assurance and Governance team. Reflecting on their careers, Nick said: “I joined as a wholetime firefighter at Worthing Fire Station in September 2003 after seeing how much joy the role brought my dad.

“Over the years I would hear my dad come home and tell us stories about his day, and he always spoke so fondly of the people he worked with – I knew that was a career I wanted for myself too. I guess working for the fire service is part of my DNA!”

Andy added: “I am so proud to have both of my sons working in the service. Christmas dinners are the best as we share the same common denominator – the fire service – and we can talk for hours about the work that we do. Unfortunately my daughter, Bethan, has had to put up with us speaking jargon over the years, but she has been a huge support during our careers.”

In 2013, Andy then retired from his wholetime role as a Group Manager for the Chichester district and returned to Selsey Fire Station as a retained Crew Manager.

Throughout his lengthy career Andy has attended notable incidents such as the fire at Uppark House in 1989, the 1994 Chichester flooding and the Selsey Academy fire in 2016.

“I have attended a huge number of incidents over the years, but I will never forget my first call – responding to an incident at the Methodist Hall.” he said.

“My Sub Officer got me to crawl through the building, keeping my face to the floor and talked me through the technicalities of the fire. I came out of the building coughing and spluttering everywhere – thankfully the equipment, kit and processes we use nowadays are vastly different.”

He added: “One of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years is the diversity of the fire service. When I first joined, there were no female firefighters, in fact it wasn’t until I joined the training team that a female firefighter joined the service. The service has benefited hugely from becoming more diverse, and it has been my greatest pleasure helping to develop the hundreds of new faces that have come through the fire station doors over the years.

“The kit has been another huge change – back in the ‘70s we wore black plastic half-leggings that were held up with metal clips and attached to a belt that carried an axe – in fact, it was the same kit that soldiers wore in the war. We also had black cork helmets and no fire gloves. Back then we didn’t know any different, but in hindsight the kit was so dangerous. I’m so glad that the kit we now use has been designed with a paramount focus on safety.”

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton said: “Andy is an incredible individual whose selflessness does not go unnoticed. During his time with the service, he has won two Lifetime Achievement Awards, and quite honestly, I don’t think there are enough Lifetime Achievement Awards in the world to honour the dutiful career he has given to the communities of Selsey, and West Sussex as a whole.

“Reaching 50 years of service is a hugely significant milestone, and one that very few people achieve. During those years there will have been many spoilt meals and missed birthdays due to emergency callouts, but I can truly say that West Sussex is a better, safer place because of Andy’s service.”