SIX years ago brave Ian Hudson retired from the fire service and realised he was no longer fit enough to do the life-saving job he loved.
Yesterday the 61-year-old stood side-by-side with his younger former colleagues to protest against pension changes which could see them working to at least 60.
Grandad-of-two Ian said lives could be put at risk because fire officers of his age could not physically keep up with the demands of the job.
He added it would be impossible for most 60-year-olds to carry bodies from burning buildings, hoist ladders, wear heavy apparatus and work non-stop throughout the night at life-threatening incidents.
To put the challenges on the body into context, Ian said within the first 20 minutes of an emergency incident a firefighter uses as much energy as a labourer would working an eight-hour day.
Ian, a dad-of-three who lives on the Fens estate in Hartlepool and who clocked up 29 years service with Cleveland Fire Brigade, said: “I’ve been retired for six years now, I don’t think I’d like to be doing the job now.
“I retired when I was 55 and in just six years I can feel a big difference. I was fit enough when I was 55 but I was starting to struggle with the physical pressures then. I’d have no chance now.
“Sometimes when you come on shift and there’s an incident ongoing, you’re literally out there immediately and you don’t stop. Some of the younger lads get tired with it and need time to recover, so I can’t even imagine doing it at my age.
“They should get some of these Government ministers here and get them to reel a hose in, even doing that they’d realise how physically demanding a job these lads do.”
He added: “I wanted to come out and show my support. If they change the pensions of firefighters, then they’ll come after the pensions of retired firefighters next.”
Yesterday scores of firefighters took strike action against the Government and walked out of their shifts from midday until 4pm.
The strength of feeling was such that several crew members turned out for the protest despite finishing a night shift just hours before.
One 27-year-old firefighter – who did not wish to be named – said if reforms were passed he would be 67 when he retired after paying into an extended pension scheme of 40 years.
He said: “I’m paying into a pension scheme that’s impossible for me to finish. I get tired now. I can’t imagine doing this when I’m 57 never mind 67, it’s ridiculous.”
A 38-year-old crew member, who joined the brigade when he was 19, said: “I signed up to a 30-year pension and these changes could see me working for another 10 years.
“If the bank suddenly wanted to extend your mortgage by 10 years you wouldn’t be happy.”
Fire Brigade Union representative Neil Sowden, 51, a serving firefighter for 24 years, said: “The direction the Government is going in is just too much. Working as a firefighter until you’re 60 is just too long.
“The physical demands of the job and the equipment we have to handle is just too much. If we go to a house fire, for example, we have to use a large ladder which takes four lads to man-handle.
“We have to wear breathing apparatus and go into fires, it’s physical exertion on a person. At 60 years of age there aren’t many people who are going to be capable of doing that. It will put the lives of firefighters and members of the public at risk.”
No 999 fire calls were made in Hartlepool during the four-hour walk-out. The only calls the brigade received were to an automatic fire alarm in Eston, and a small fire which was out on arrival in Grangetown, both near Middlesbrough.