Hawick’s Dave Farries celebrating half-century as firefighter

Veteran firefighter Dave Farries, 66, originally from Hawick but now of Currie in Edinburgh.
Veteran firefighter Dave Farries, 66, originally from Hawick but now of Currie in Edinburgh.

A Borderer is celebrating notching up half a century as a firefighter.

That 50 years’ service might well make Dave Farries the longest-serving full-time firefighter in the UK following the retirement in October of another veteran in contention for the same title, Kent’s Malcolm Cowie.

The 66-year-old left his home town of Hawick in 1968 to begin a job as a junior firefighter with what was then the South Eastern Fire Brigade in Edinburgh, and 50 years on, he has no intention of calling it a day just yet.

His half-century of public service has included spells as a firefighter, instructor and investigator, and nowadays he is tasked with cataloguing and preserving artefacts charting the history of firefighting in Scotland, among other duties.

“I’ve still got it up here, you see,” said the grandfather of three, pointing to his head.

“Aye, I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t struggle to run up several flights of stairs with a line of hose in my hand and a cylinder on my back today in the same way I used to, but, believe me, I’ve got plenty to give yet and anyway there’s work to do.

“Who needs retirement when you’ve got the greatest job in the world?

“I might not get paid a footballer’s wage, but I wouldn’t swap this for anything.

“The camaraderie, the lasting friendships, the opportunity to provide for my family doing something that I love – you can’t buy that.”

Dave has served his entire career in and around Edinburgh and the east of Scotland, and he’s worked in all but one of the capital’s fire stations.

“I’d no idea what I wanted to do when I left school in 1968,” recalled Dave, currently based at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s east headquarters in Newbridge, Midlothian, and a resource storage facility near Falkirk.

“I wanted to be outdoors and had planned to go into the Forestry Commission, but I didn’t want to go college, so I moved up to Edinburgh, went into fire brigade digs four days a week, and here I am, still here.

“Edinburgh was a very different place then. I was a 16-year-old boy from the Borders, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

“When I first went on the run, we had Niddrie, Greendykes and, to a lesser extent, Portobello on our patch. They were rough places. The poverty was just unbelievable.”

Despite all his decades on the front line of firefighting, Dave has made it thus far largely unscathed.

“My body’s certainly took a wee bit of a pounding over the years,” he said.

“I’ve still got a few marks and scars, mainly from the old breathing apparatus sets that we used to use. They were fitted with these metal bits that would heat up and scar your face, would you believe? But that was long ago, and, dare I say it, I’ve been lucky.

“I ended up in hospital quite a few times, but nothing major – the first time when a metal hatch nearly took off my finger, then when I got car battery acid in my eye and once with heat stress after fighting a fire at an old underground bunker in Corstorphine – but I can’t complain. I’ve had worse injuries playing rugby.”

These days, Dave lives in the Edinburgh suburb of Currie with wife Michelle, 64, and daughter Linzi.

Firefighting is a family affair for Dave, his father-in-law William Connor being a former deputy firemaster with Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service and his son David being deputy assistant chief officer for the north of Scotland.

“My dad’s clearly left his mark on so many people,” said David, 42.

“He’s always been a quiet and reserved guy, but throughout my career I’ve had people telling me how he’s helped them or how much they’ve enjoyed working alongside him.

“To this day, more than 20 years in the job, I’m still young Dave Farries to some and I’m incredibly proud of that.”

It was a combination of his father-in-law and a rugby injury that brought Dave and Michelle together, so he remains grateful for his sporting mishaps.

“After a few injuries on the field, I had to produce my sick line to Michelle’s dad, who was the gaffer at the time back home at Hawick station,” Dave recalled.

“It’s funny when I think about it. Apparently, he’d ask Michelle ‘do you know this bloody Farries boy? He’s always injured’.

“We met a little while after that, and it went from there. and 48 years later, here we are.”

Tragically, Dave and Michelle lost their son Keith in 2002.

A heating engineer, he was killed at the age of 22 by hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition, while playing football near Edinburgh.

“The grief is still with us,” Dave, awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal for devotion to duty in 2014, explained. “It never leaves, and it never will. You don’t expect to lose your kids – you expect your kids to lose you – and our Keith was quite a loss.

“A friend who also lost his wee laddie once told me that it’s like a big sharp stone right in here,” Dave added holding his hands to his chest.

“The stone never goes away, but in time it gets smaller and the sharp edges wear down.

“It’s always there, but it’s never as big, never as heavy, and the pain starts to ease. For me, that’s very true.

“This is something I’ve held on to and have been able to pass on to colleagues who have lost family members.

“I’d never want anyone to go through what we did, but all you can do is hope you can help other people if you’re ever needed.”

As well as bringing him and Michelle together, it was a rugby field that yielded the most cherished moment of his career.

Always involved in the fire and rescue service rugby team, both locally and nationally, Dave was struggling to get enough players for an international match in Wales over 20 years ago, prompting him to call on his two sons to help out.

“We always toiled for players when we travelled away, and on this occasion I asked David and Keith if they could come and play,” Dave recalled.

“I don’t remember much about the game itself, but I played in the back row and my two boys were in the front row.

“We were a rugby family, and this was the one and only competitive game I got to play with both of my laddies.

“Now, that might not seem much, but it means the world to me.

“I might not have that memory if it wasn’t for the fire service. This job has given me a memory like no other, something I’ll hold on to forever.”