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Veteran fire control room operator from Maidenhead receives public service award

A retired fire control room operator from Maidenhead who helped save five children's lives in Langley with a phone call has received an award for over 40 years of service.

Alan Webster, who grew up in Maidenhead, picked up the Shane Burton Award for a career devoted to public service at Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue’s annual award ceremony in September.

The 60-year-old, whose family lived in Cherwell Close, says he was inspired to join the fire service partly by the firefighters who lived on his street.

After deciding that being a firefighter was not for him during the training process, Alan started working in the control room in Dee Road, Reading in April, 1978, where he handled emergency calls and coordinated where fire crews were sent.

When receiving his award last month, Alan, who now lives in Earley, was commended for how he handled a call from a young girl who was trapped upstairs with her siblings after a fire broke out downstairs.

Alan gave her instructions on the phone, asking her to put duvets and blankets by the bedroom door to stop smoke coming in and to hang something out of the bedroom window to alert firefighters.

“I had to keep talking to the girl to keep her calm because she was a bit agitated,” said Alan.

“This girl did really really well, she did everything I asked her to do.”

He says the girl, whose actions helped save her four siblings, politely asked if it was ok to put the phone down after firefighters came to their rescue.

On the day the 1992 Windsor Castle fire broke out, Alan says he was collecting for Children in Need with his back turned to a TV shop in Reading.

Before they were rallied to action, an elderly gentleman pointed to the scenes of Windsor Castle on the TVs behind them and said ‘what are you lot doing, you should be helping our Majesty’.

“The ones I really felt sorry for were the crews,” said Alan, who said that firefighters spent days on the scene and were sent from Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Surrey and Bedfordshire.

Alan, who retired in June this year, two weeks away from his 60th birthday, says his wife Carole was ‘over the moon’ about his award.

Alan’s career included operating on the lines during the 1987 Hungerford massacre and the 2011 Swinley Forest fire near Bracknell.

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