Grandad-of-Five hails the role of a Retained Firefighter

A Grandad-of-five from Chopwell in Gateshead celebrates the essential role a Retained Firefighter plays in the local community during National On-Call Firefighter Week.

“I’m really proud and honoured to have served my local community for nearly forty years as a firefighter. None of this would have been made possible without starting out my journey as a Retained Firefighter,” said On-call Watch Manager, Tony Bird.

Tony Bird, aged 58, is Chopwell born-and-bred, he is husband to Susan and they have a son, Anthony aged 32, who also works for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service as a Retained Firefighter.  Tony has five granddaughters and he followed in the footsteps of his own Grandad Joe, who was a Retained Firefighter at Chopwell Fire Station back in the 1950s and 60s.

Tony started his professional life aged just 16 as a Miner working at Marley Hill Colliery in Whickham, transporting materials to the coalface by assisting the pit ponies.  Tony stayed at Marley Hill until its closure in 1981 when he was transferred to Wearmouth Colliery in Sunderland, where he worked on the coalface until 1993.

A Retained Firefighter is somebody who works for the fire service as their secondary job and who ideally lives within five-minutes of the station. In Tyne and Wear, Chopwell Community Fire Station is the region’s sole retained station.

National On-Call Firefighter Week is a campaign delivered by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

Tony continues: “The role of a Retained Firefighter is an occupation that holds great respect with residents in the village.  I’ve had people knocking on my front door if someone has collapsed or is badly injured, as you get taught first aid skills as part of your training.”

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is a real family affair for Tony as his son Anthony (who works in a glass factory), and nephew Kallum aged 26 (a local landscaper) also work as retained firefighters at Chopwell Community Fire Station. They started out their association with the Service by joining the Young Firefighters scheme.

In 1997, Tony made the transition to being a Whole Time Fire Fighter based at West Denton Fire Station and later moving to Swalwell – where he has worked for the past 5-years.

Tony is also an active member of the Chopwell Miner’s Banner Group and helps to set up the annual Christmas Lights display.

Tony concludes: “Being a firefighter is the best job in the world and I wouldn’t swap it for anything else.  Having the chance to help safeguard people I’ve grown up with in my home village is very rewarding.”

Jon Anderson, Service Delivery Station Manager for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: “National On-call Firefighter Week is an opportunity to highlight the important working commitment made by Retained Firefighters.  In our region this is provided at Chopwell Community Fire Station.  The crews provide an essential role in helping to protect the local community.

“We are always keen to hear from people who are looking to join the Service and deliver this crucial role.  It is a very fulfilling job that can help bolster people’s careers.

“Retained Firefighters provide an immediate response to a variety of different incidents from road traffic accidents, flooding and residential fires. These are fully trained people providing assistance when their community needs them most.”

Station Manager Anderson started himself as a Retained Firefighter back in 1994, and he now oversees activity at Chopwell Community Fire Station and Birtley Community Fire Station.

Jon and Tony (Bird) have been lifelong friends as they lived opposite each other growing up.  They have had other connections down the years with Tony initially being Jon’s boss at a local firm, and now those tables have turned.

For further information about Chopwell Community Fire Station please visit