Many of the staff working at Abbeyfield houses and homes have come to us after a career change and that is certainly the case with our Maintenance Worker at Westall House, Phil Pierpoint.

After working 29 years in the Fire Service, Phil took up a position at Westall House to fill the hours of his retirement - "I can't sit still, and I don't think my wife wants me hanging round the house, so when the maintenance role at Westall came up I thought this is the perfect opportunity to keep busy, utilise my skills and socialise with people from all walks of life."

Then, just a few months into his role he was invited to take part in the Remembrance Day Parade in London to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts, and celebrate his esteemed career. We caught up with Phil to find out a bit about his time in the Fire Service and what goes in to such a prestigious event. 

Hi Phil, can you tell us a bit about your career in the Fire Service?

"I spent 29 years in the Fire Service, mainly working in Haywards Heath. Originally I wanted to join the Royal Marines but my father wasn't keen on that idea so I pivoted and chose the Fire Service. 

"I started off as a general Fire Fighter and then worked my way through the ranks to Crew Manager and then Watch Manager. One thing you might not know but your role in the Fire Services dictates where you sit in the truck.

"The driver, obviously sits behind the wheel but they are responsible for the water and hose. The Crew Manager rides up front and is responsible for the plan of action when we arrive at the incident. You then have two fire crew sitting on the outer seats in the back and they will have full breathing apparatus and go in to a building. And finally the person sat in the middle in the back keeps a close eye on everything going on and provides first aid if we attend a car accident, for example. 

"One of the unexpected aspects of my role came after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. That tragic event lead Fire Services in the UK to identify that we didn't have enough skilled personnel able to attend an incident like that should it happen in our country. So they asked for volunteers to attend a two week training course in the US which I took part in. After which I was trained to attend major disasters, such as earthquakes, mining incidents etc., not only in the UK but abroad too." 

What inspired you to join the Fire Service?

"I had always been very active in my youth, playing sports and helping my dad out. So as I grew older I knew I wouldn't be suited to a job which involved a lot of sitting. I was also very sociable and wanted a job which gave back to my community. The Fire Service seemed like the perfect fit." 

We know, of course, that the Fire Service respond to tragic accidents and incidents but we also know you can be called upon for more interesting tasks. What have been some of your memorable call outs?

"There are of course the cat up a tree jobs but some of the things that stick out for me are jobs like a squirrel being stuck behind a radiator, and deers stuck in swimming pools. It's these jobs that test your problem solving skills and initiative." 

This year you were asked to take part in the Remembrance Day Parade in London, how did that come about?

"You have to be nominated to take part and this year, having retired, I was lucky enough to be chosen along with 150 other service men and women from the police, RNLI, guards etc. to take part."

What preparations did you have to do? And what happens on the actual day?

"The Saturday before you are fitted for your uniform and given hymns to learn off-sheet. Then you head to London the night before to meet the others who are taking part and learn your marching routine at Lambeth Fire Station. 

"At 5am on the Sunday morning you have final checks and then it's time to march down King Charles Street to the Cenotaph. You actually get ready for the day at the Commonwealth Office, which if you watched the parade on TV you will have seen Princess Kate and other members of the Royal Family standing on the balcony there to pay their respects. 

"Once we have made it to our final point of the march we stand as a guard of honour along with the RAF, Guards and Royal Marines whilst the other elements of the parade happen. 

"This was probably one of the harder elements of the day as you have to stand for nearly 2 hours. But I was right next to the Royal Marines band which was fantastic - I loved hearing the music and soaking up the atmosphere." 

How did it feel to be part of this prestigious day?

"I was really honoured. It was such a privilege to be there with other service personnel and experience such a momentous occasion. 

"I had told my wife not to bother coming and rather stay home to watch it on TV because I couldn't be certain where I'd be stationed for the day. But in her wisdom she ignored me and came along to see if she'd be lucky enough to spot me. I couldn't believe it when I got to my final spot, turned to my side and there she was. We were even featured on the BBC coverage together - what are the chances?!"

And that brings us to today, you now work at Westall House in our maintenance team. What do you enjoy about your role?

"It's like one big family here, everyone is so welcoming from the other staff to the residents. After retiring from the Fire Service I knew I wanted to keep active and still stay connected with my local community. When the job at Westall came up I was thrilled to be accepted and have enjoyed every minute since. 

"No two days are the same. One day I could be painting, the next fixing some plumbing. But always chatting away with the residents and making sure they are looked after and supported with whatever it is they need." 

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Discover Westall House

Located in the charming and historic village of Horsted Keynes, Westall House care home offers 24 hour care for 18 residents in single en-suite rooms. All of our rooms come unfurnished allowing you to personalise it to your own taste to make you feel completely at home.

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