Burning Ambition

by Laura Storey


If you spent the summer of 2018 in Colne, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Benidorm. A heatwave brought one of the hottest summers on record and the town bathed in three months of sunshine. Questionable outfits were brought out from storage, shops sold out of ice cream and beer gardens were packed. However, for the fire service, the situation was much more desperate than Asda running low on choc ices.

Fire crews up and down the country battled 79 wild fires, and one of the largest was at Winter Hill, just outside of Blackburn. “I’ve got a bit of a nemesis in Winter Hill,” explains Richard Taylor, the Watch Manager at Colne Fire Station. The unprecedented fire saw Richard working 22-hour shifts in the attempt to extinguish the fire back in 2018.

Group photo: Richard is furthest right on the middle row and Peter McMullen is 3rd in from the right on the back row.

After the blaze was thought to be extinguished Richard was on relief duties, checking the moor hadn’t reignited. “We’d been there most of the day, eight hours, then someone says, ‘there’s some smoke over the hill.’ He said it was only five minutes away, but it took us about 15 minutes to get there. And as I’m going up this track, up to Winter Hill, there was a car on its side. The people who had lit the fire had tried doing a runner and they had crashed.”

With the wind blowing a gale and the fire spreading quickly, Richard had to organise ten engines to the scene until fortunately a group manager from Manchester arrived, and Richard was only too pleased to let him take over. “I said, I’ve done my bit, but then we were there for about a month. It was a long while.”

The Winter Hill fire lasted 41 days and at one point covered seven-square miles with firefighters drafted in to help from all over Lancashire and Greater Manchester. This is not the only incident Richard has dealt with, however, his 37-year career has seen him tackling everything from plane crashes to distressed pigeons alongside his long standing colleague Peter McMullen, who retired after 40 years’ service earlier this year.

Peter signed up at 20-years-old and received his long service medal at his final drill night in April, along with a fireman’s axe from his colleagues in recognition of his service. Richard is determined to reach the same milestone as Peter.

“His 37-year career has seen him tackling everything from plane crashes to distressed pigeons”

“I have no intentions of going yet!” Richard explains. “I was 21 when I joined up, I saw this lad, Sean Brelsford, and he kept running out of his house in a hurry. I kept thinking ‘where is he going?’ I finally quizzed him and he mentioned he was a firefighter on call. I thought, I’d like to do

“It’s a great job. I always say to the lads, because some of them just passed their driving test – ‘where else do you get to fly around in a red machine with lights on?’” It’s certainly not a job for the faint hearted, however, Richard is the type of person that seems to thrive on danger. “You go into jobs and everyone else is leaving and you’re going in,” Richard smiles. His passion for the job obviously rubbed off on his son, Christopher, who is also employed as a firefighter at Colne Fire Station.

As Richard makes clear, however, working with family often means you get a bit of stick if you don’t do a job properly. “We needed to get in some flats and I told Christopher to get the door ram, he swung it and half the bricks come off. I said, ‘we only need to go through the door son,’” Richard laughs.

For Richard, the job has hardened him to the traumas he’s seen as firefighter. “You join to save lives and save property and stuff. But yeah, it’s not always the case that you can do that.” Richard recalls a plane crash he attended on a moor above Colne. “We’re going years back, it was a bit cloudy and they ended up crashing. The pilot didn’t make it out. There was nothing we could do, you can’t let it bother you.”

The memorial garden outside Colne Fire Station

While many incidents over the years have stayed with Richard, none affected the station more so than the death of a fellow firefighter. Tom Petty, 25, along with his girlfriend Jessica Foxley, 21, and friend Philip Wright, 25, died after their Ford Focus crashed in Skipton Road, near the junction with Long Lane, in July 2009.

A memorial garden has been set up in the memory of all three young adults just outside the fire station, with three benches for each of the friends. The garden was built by the station’s own firefighters.
“We’re like a family at the station,” Richard says, as he leads me from the memorial garden to his office which is lined with photos of his colleagues, “if anyone has any problems, they can always talk to me.”
There’s a real sense of warmth at the Colne Fire Station and it isn’t a fire! Colne Fire Station is filled with long-standing firefighters who have served their communities for decades, but they are also in search of new blood.

Richard with a copy of Colne Life

If you want to join Colne Fire Service, pop down to the station on Craddock Road on a Monday night and have a chat with Richard. The station is always looking for dedicated firefighters. Find out more about the process and what it takes to be a firefighter here:

ColneLife summer 2022