A dog-loving firefighter put his retirement on hold to complete a pet project which will benefit animals in the county.
Dogsthorpe firefighter Neil Hoskin must have been barking mad to delay his retirement after 26 years of service, but the 47-year-old was determined to deliver his final training session on new pet-friendly animal masks which he helped to introduce.
Not that Neil minded holding on a few extra weeks to complete the Smokey Paws animal masks project, which now sees every fire station in Cambridgeshire hold a set of new pet-friendly masks used in animal rescues.
He said: “I’m happy that the firefighters will be safer - and the animals. I tried to make a difference and hopefully I did, but some good people have helped me on the way.
“It took me a year because places like St Neots I visited five times as the four previous times I visited they were out on call!”
Neil, of Crowland, joined Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service aged 21 and spent time at Huntingdon, Stanground and Dogsthorpe fire stations. He was then attached to the Tactical Delivery Group for the final year of his service.
He approached his bosses two years ago because animals involved in domestic fires received oxygen masks which were designed for humans.
Neil had spoken to a not-for-profit organisation called Smokey Paws which agreed to deliver animal-friendly masks worth £90 which can be used for pets small and large.
And determined to lead the way, Neil devised a training programme for fellow firefighters which even included bringing in his five-year-old pet Husky, Lexie, to demonstrate.
Neil said: “The one day I took her in, quite a lot of people were there. She was on a cold floor and did not like it and I was thinking ‘behave!’. But she was fine.”
After a year of training all of the county’s crews the benefits of the new masks are now being felt.
Dogsthorpe firefighter Phil Gould said: “In Padholme Road East and Dogsthorpe Road we had cats which were lifeless, but we get the mask on their face and that brings them back around with a bit of rubbing and stimulating.”
Neil will now continue running his own business called Fence Connection, which provides landscaping and fencing, while delivering training for an outside animal-rescue organisation on subjects such as handling dangerous dogs.
Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland presented Neil with a figurine to mark his retirement in front of friends, colleagues, and Neil’s wife, Nikki. Chris said: “Neil is the sort of person who makes the service. He will be missed.”
Area commander Maurice Moore said: “Neil is certainly a unique character and he has done a fantastic job over the years. I have the greatest respect for him.”