When it came to deciding what he wanted to do for a career, there was no contest for Nigel Brown – after seeing both his parents and multiple relatives before him enjoy their time in the fire service, he looked forward to following in their footsteps.
After growing up living on fire stations in Birmingham, retired firefighter Nigel says it was always a huge part of his life. So too was The Fire Fighters Charity, which has not only helped him – but also his mother, father, daughter and son-in-law over the years.
Now, as a way of showing his gratitude and incredible support, Nigel has pledged to gift part of his father’s estate to the Charity, to support the vital work offered to beneficiaries across the country.
“My mother’s father joined the Birmingham Fire Brigade in 1926 after coming out of the RAF,” says Nigel. “When my mum was born in 1930, she actually ended up living in fire stations in Birmingham. Firefighters back then were more or less on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it was easier to live on site.
“My grandfather actually got an official commendation in 1940 during his service, after rescuing another firefighter who was stuck in a collapsed building.”
When Nigel’s grandfather died in 1945 following a stroke, his mum was left helping to care for her two siblings – with both her and Nigel’s grandmother, who was pregnant at the time, struggling to get by on a small pension and few savings. He says that’s when they first saw the difference the Charity could make to beneficiaries’ lives.
“The Charity – which at the time was the Benevolent Fund – offered some financial assistance to my mum and nan,” says Nigel. “They had hardly any money – literally on the breadline – so they did help out quite a bit.”
Nigel’s mum went on to join Fire Control in Birmingham where she met his father, who had joined as a firefighter – alongside his brothers and sister – after his service in the Second World War.
Due to the long hours, Nigel’s family lived on site. It meant that in his childhood years in the early 1950s, he spent a lot of his time around fire stations. It’s where his love for the service grew – until he too joined as a new recruit in 1971.
“There were around 10 direct members of my family working in the service!” says Nigel. However, while he loved his work, it also brought with it several harrowing experiences on the job.
“One of my most vivid memories from my time in the service was in 1974, in Birmingham Fire Brigade, when the city was hit by bombings,” recalls Nigel. “I was on duty and we’d got turned out to standby as cover in central Birmingham. I remember suddenly hearing on the radio a request for 20 ambulances. We looked at each other thinking, ‘what the?!’ A pub called the Mulberry Bush in Birmingham has been blown up and we were asked to go and attend.
“I remember coming round a corner and there was a loud noise and plumes of smoke on our right side. We all looked at each other… it was another explosion in the Tavern in the Town, another pub. We didn’t get to Mulberry Bush – we attended there as we were so close. I remember jumping off the back of the appliance… it was an underground pub and we managed to get there in a few seconds. We were searching there until about 3am the next morning… 200 odd injured, 11 dead that night.”
Nigel eventually retired in 2003, having supported the Charity throughout his service. It’s a cause incredibly close to his heart, after not only his mother and grandmother were helped by our Welfare team, but his father also visited our centre in Penrith for help with his back.
That support continued more recently, as Nigel’s own daughter received support, having started struggling with arthritis from a young age. He says the Charity helped her access a wheelchair – something he’ll be forever grateful for.
“They also offered her advice and help for her physical and mental condition,” says Nigel. “Then her husband Adrian, who is an on-call firefighter with West Sussex Fire Brigade, visited Harcombe House too after injuring his back.”
But while he’s seen several family members helped, Nigel experienced the Charity’s support first-hand in 2019.
“I went to the centre in Littlehampton myself, just before lockdown. I’ve got osteoarthritis, so I was helped with that and some mental health issues,” he says.
“While they didn’t affect me at the time, I’d attended a few incidents in Essex – I used to cover the M25 – and there had been some with young children that sadly died. It eventually caught up with me. A couple of people at Littlehampton – one psychological therapist and one physio therapist – saved me from things.
“At one point I remember I broke down completely, and one of them took me to one side, put her arms round me and gave me a hug. I cannot thank her anymore. She saved me from really having a bad time. Since then I’ve had a few sessions online too, with one of the counsellors. They’ve been so helpful.”
Nigel sadly lost his father at the end of last year and, as an incredibly generous way of showing their thanks, he and his family have now pledged to leave a substantial amount to the Charity in his name, as part of his estate.
“If we win the lottery tonight, we’ll also give you a huge sum of money!” Nigel says. “The Charity has helped our whole family, so we wanted to give something back. I know how much a donation like this means to The Fire Fighters Charity, and what it can make possible.
“I take part in lotteries too. If I’m going to spend money I might as well spend it in the right places. We volunteer as well, we are community champions for Cambridgeshire FRS. We do Safe and Well visits, or we do Charity talks, go to fetes, socials, give out information about fire safety and while I’m there, always talk about the Charity to encourage donations.
“I plan to leave money to the Charity in my own will too.
“My wife and I have also had a huge clear out of clothing over the last year, which we’re recycled with you.”
If you’d like to find out more about leaving a gift in your will, visit www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/wills. If something is affecting your physical or mental health, or you need welfare support, let us help. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820 or make an enquiry online.