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ECFRS staff recognised on the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Honours List

Two dedicated colleagues from Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) have been recognised in today’s Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours list.

Roger Pickett, a former firefighter who created The Essex Fire Museum, and Derek Whitbread, an on-call firefighter at Epping will both receive the British Empire Medal.

Roger officially retired last year after an incredible 44 and a half years keeping the county safe as a firefighter and setting up and running our Essex Fire Museum, encouraging the next generation of firefighters. On finding out the news about his BEM he said: “When the news dropped onto my door mat it came as a huge surprise and actually left me quite speechless, which for me is quite unusual. It’s a great honour for both myself and of course Essex County Fire and Rescue Service which I continue to support.” 

Epping Watch Manager Derek Whitbread, who holds the record of being Essex’s longest serving on-call firefighter having served the town for 47 years, said: “It’s nice to be appreciated and to get something like this is the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t be able to do this job without the support of my family and of course everyone who I have worked with over the years. It’s really special.”

Rick Hylton, ECFRS Chief Fire Officer/ Chief Executive, said: “Both Roger and Derek have been dedicated public servants, putting the needs of their community before their own for many years. I’m so pleased their commitment and service has been recognised in this way. I want to wish them a huge congratulations and say how proud all of us within the Service are of them both and their achievements. They really have made a difference to lives of so many people in Essex and these awards are truly deserved.”

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service who are eligible will receive the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and all other colleagues are being awarded a commemorative coin.

Rick added: “I’m proud that everyone in our Service will have either a medal or a coin which recognises their commitment to keeping the people of Essex safe. This is a special year and the gift from Her Majesty The Queen will be something that we can all cherish to recognise this historic moment.”
 

Roger Pickett 

Roger decided to become a firefighter whilst working in London in May 1976. He was loading a lorry at a building site and was distracted by two fire engines driving past. He didn’t see a scaffold board being thrown to him and it hit him on the shins. Thinking “I’m not doing this anymore” he decided to apply to join the then Essex County Fire Brigade. He retired 44 years later after a long and varied career.

He completed 30 years as a Firefighter at Grays; 15 years on Red Watch followed by periods on White Watch and then 13 years on Green Watch.

Roger retired from operational duty in November 2006, which gave him the chance to further his interest in local history, particularly researching the town’s own brigade from its formation in 1883. 

He said: “In my early years as a firefighter I took up photography and constructed a dark room for developing and printing black and white photographs. The job came first, but everywhere I went a camera went with me. I got hundreds of pictures of incidents and I become interested in the history of our Service.

“In my thirties I was heavily involved in local history which is still a passion. I had a fascination with Grays as it was from the Victorian era right through to pre and post war, the 50s and 60s. I even found some pictures of Grays Fire Stations from the early 1900s.

“I put a letter in the Thurrock Gazette asking if anyone had relatives in the fire brigade in the 50s and I ended up getting 11 replies. I went to see these people and they gave me pictures and I ended up with a mini museum in the foyer at Grays.

“I spent hours of my own time being creative and I felt I knew the people in the pictures. Firefighters from all over the county would say: ‘I wish every station had that history’. I’d say: ‘You’ve all got it, you just need to look for it’.”

Roger’s mini-museum was quickly outgrowing the space – but he had grander plans. He approached the Assistant Divisional Officer at Grays with a proposal to convert two unused garages at the fire station into a museum.

He said: “We ended up going to the Chief with a picture I’d drawn on a piece of A3 paper. Within months there were architects, surveyors and meetings with builders and I thought: ‘What have I done?'”

“After I retired (in November 2006), I was in the museum building virtually every day and it was completed by December 2006. I said to the Chief: ‘Any chance you could give me a job three days a week?’ – and he did!”

The Essex Fire Museum was born, and it remains an important part of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service to this day. It attracts around 5,000 visitors a year and is accredited by the Arts Council England.
 

Derek Whitbread

Epping Watch Manager Derek Whitbread, who holds the record of being Essex’s longest serving on-call firefighter having served the town for 47 years, said: “It’s nice to be appreciated and to get something like this is the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t be able to do this job without the support of my family and of course everyone who I have worked with over the years. It’s really special.”

Watch Manager Derek Whitbread holds the record being Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s longest serving on-call firefighter, responding to incidents from Epping fire station 24/7 for 47 years. Quite an achievement for someone who only thought he would try it out for six months! Derek said: “I was approached to join as an on-call firefighter in 1974 by one of the other firefighters in Epping who thought I would be good at it and I agreed to give it a trial and give it six months or so, but here I still am.”

The fire-fighting bug runs in Derek’s family with his son and daughter Jason and Hannah working within the service as firefighters (Jason whole-time with Kent Fire and Rescue and on-call with his dad at Epping and Hannah whole-time at Harlow). His youngest daughter Rebecca works as an Accident and Emergency Sister in Whitechapel.

When he’s not responding to incidents, he runs his own maintenance company. He said: “We couldn’t do what we do as a family without the support of my wife, Louise. She really is the unsung hero supporting us all when we are working all hours and turning out all times of the day and night. She really is brilliant.”

Derek credits his long career to the fact he has such a good team of people around him at Epping Fire Station. He added: “They are a great bunch of people and we all work well together. It’s a great team to be a part of and I’m not ready to give it up yet.”

When Derek started his career, he would have been in the thick of it during the hot summer of 1976 when Epping Forest was the focal point of fires within the county.

He has held a whole rate status contract for most if not all of his 47 years (120+ hours of cover a week).  His availability is the best at Epping Fire Station to this day providing 120+ hours of on call cover a week – a level of commitment seldom seen for so long, with literally a lifetime’s dedicated service.

His contribution to keeping Epping safe has been recognised by both the town council and district council who have awarded him townsperson of the year honours and community awards.

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