Just over three weeks ago we were all stunned and totally shocked to hear of the tragic and very untimely death of Firefighter Alan Soards.
Al had joined Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service as a wholetime firefighter back in 2001 - the year before I joined as a retained firefighter. Like me, Al was stationed at Normanshurst Fire Station in Lowestoft and our paths crossed many times in training and on shouts.
He was a committed professional and would always put himself forward to be involved with anything to do with the Fire Service. Al joined the Marine Incident Response Group, ready to fight fires on ships out at sea. He joined the retained section at Normanshurst and got himself known and well-liked by all of our crew.
We teamed up to present Learn and Live, a hard-hitting road safety campaign targetting high school and college students. Al was central to delivering Learn and Live to literally thousands of young people. Reliving his own story of how he lost friends in an RTC made the message all the more powerful for these vulnerable and impressionable youngsters.
And so we found ourselves amongst hundreds of mourners at St. Andrews Church in Gorleston to celebrate and give thanks for Al's life and what he'd meant to all of us.
Firefighters and officers from across Suffolk lined the long sloping pathway to the entrance to St. Andrews Church. The chill northerly wind whipped around the churchyard making eyes stream and noses run. Eyes strained towards Lowestoft to get the first glimpse of the cortege. Time stood still. Al was running late - nothing new there...
And there it was. The vintage TL from Essex stopped a few hundred yards away for the transfer of the coffin from the hearse. The pall bearers mounted the side of the TL and Dale Wallace (a former colleague of Al's) played the bagpipes and led the cortege as it finished its journey to the church.
Over 200 firefighters were called to attention, heads bowed, ready for the procession to make its way through our ranks and into the church.
Members of Al's White Watch acted as pallbearers and also carried Al's helmet. And Al's dog, Tyson, was given pride of place in the procession too, proudly sporting a specially made SFRS coat.
The funeral service was both moving and, at times, light-hearted. Moving as we heard of how well-respected and loved Al was, how he would always help anyone and how he would be missed by his family and by that other family - everyone at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Light-hearted as tales of Al's history of breaking things were recounted - as I'm sure they will be for many years to come.
In front of us we had a constant reminder of that 'other family' as standard bearers from all the other UK fire and rescue services filled each side of the church.
The most moving part of the service was the eulogy from Neil Henderson, Al's Watch Commander. Neil's words and recollections summed up Al to a 'T', were heartfelt and so easy to identify with for all the firefighters present.
And then it was over. The firefighters filed out of the church to once again line the path and bid Al farewell.
Those of us who served with Al in Lowestoft were invited to the Crematorium for the commital. Over forty firefighters formed up at attention as the cortege arrived.
After the short service we joined Al's family, friends and colleagues at the Wherry Hotel in Oulton Broad for the wake - a chance for everyone to chat and reminisce about Al and to catch up with old friends from across the Service and beyond.
Al Soards - gone but most definitely not forgotten...
Reproduced from www.alerter.co.uk/blog
Member since: 10th July 2012
Co-owner of thebestof Lowestoft
Really enjoy the challenges that this brings!