Veteran Ilford firefighter recalls weirdest and most heart-breaking stories to mark 40 years of service
PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 July 2018
From rescuing families from burning buildings to freeing a man’s genitals from clutches of a repressive ring spanner, an Ilford firefighter has seen it all over his 40-year career.
A veteran Ilford firefighter marks his 40th year in the brigade this year.
Robert Lampard, 59, has responded to thousands of incidents, from the tragic to the bizarre, and seen huge changes within the fire brigade in a career spanning four decades.
“Since I was in school, I used to say I always wanted to be a firefighter,” said the father-of-two from Seven Kings.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
But, aged 18, Robert suffered a setback in achieving his dreams.
He failed his physical exam as his chest couldn’t expand the necessary two inches when breathing in, falling just short at one and three quarter inches.
Undeterred, Robert began weight training and swimming which paid off as he passed his second physical and joined the fire brigade in 1978.
“I am grateful to have fulfilled my ambition,” he said, adding: “I would do it all again if I could.”
Robert joined Ilford fire station, then in Ley Street, after a two-and-half year spell at a training school in Silvertown. Since joining, the quality of fire service equipment is one the biggest changes he has seen.
He said: “We used to have red rubber gloves which would start to melt when they came in contact with a fire.
“We also had a silk neckerchief to stop any embers going down our neck, and wooden ladders with big wheels.
“Now we have proper, fire-retardant ones.”
Robert was among the 58 firefighters who responded to a fire on the 12th and 13th floors of a tower block in Wellington Way, Mile End last month.
Fortunately there were no reports of any injuries.
He said: “Since Grenfell, whenever there is a fire in a tower block we send five engines and a turntable ladder.
“It helps make sure you’ve got enough resources straight away.”
Amid the thousands upon thousands of callouts Robert has responded to there have been several tragedies.
One of the toughest was when he was called out to two separate fires at the same home in Ilford, in the space of two days in the 1980s.
“We rescued a six-month-old baby from the bedroom,” he said. “I had to give it mouth-to-mouth to bring it back.
“But we were called back two days later and the baby had died.”
On the second occasion, most of the family had been able to escape before firefighters arrived but the baby was trapped inside the building.
Commenting on what advice he would give to people considering becoming a firefighter, he said: “It’s not a job where you’re going to be rich or become a millionaire.
“But you get great satisfaction and every day is different.
“We might have a really quiet day or get called out to rescue people.”
The more unusual callouts Robert has responded to include trying to trap an escaped snake in Manor Park and capturing a runaway monkey.
The strangest was during the ‘90s when he was called out to King George Hospital to a man who had a ring spanner stuck around his penis.
The man would not explain how it happened, Robert said.
“He walked into a A&E like that with a big coat on to hide the spanner.”
He said his colleagues had to use special equipment to cut the man loose.
“Next time. use an adjustable spanner,” one of his colleagues joked as the man was discharged.
As a hobby, Robert avidly collects Matchbox model fire engines.
His bedroom cabinet is home to almost 6,000 machines.
Asked if he has any retirement plans, Robert said: “All I can say is I am still enjoying coming to work every day and I work with a great bunch of blokes.”
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