IT IS the dawn of a new era at Basingstoke Fire Station, after its Commander, Keith Jones, retired in February.

Keith took over the reigns of the station in 2017, just months before it moved into its brand new building at West Ham roundabout.

Now, he has sat down with The Gazette to talk about some of the most memorable moments in his career, and why he became a firefighter in the first place.

In a career spanning 30 years, Keith Jones has accomplished a lot. From managing stations to training new recruits, and from major fires that attracted national media attentions to welfare visits, Keith has seen just about as much as you can imagine.

But this glittering career started off with a chance encounter with a firefighter on a beach in Canada. He always thought of the profession as a potential career, but it was whilst he was living in Vancouver that this became a reality.

"I thought 'do you know what, I would really love to do that'," he said.

"I think like all young people I fancied joining the fire service, and [the firefighter from Canada] is actually still a friend of mine now. I joined in Canada for a couple of years."

When he moved back home to North Wales, Keith continued his burgeoning career as an on-call firefighter, where he even featured on television in 1992 after being involved in the rescue of a girl who fell at the top of a cliff. She was walking her dogs when she fell in a gap between the rocks, and injured herself.

"For the start of the career, that was an important rescue that brings back memories," Keith said.

His move to Hampshire came about a year later, when he was taken on by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

He underwent training before being posted to Basingstoke fire station, and moved to the town, where he still lives today.

Twenty-four years later, after holding many positions across the county, he returned to the town as the commander of the station where he had his first full-time firefighting job.

"That was one of my proudest moments, going back to where I started, the largest station in Hampshire," Keith told The Gazette.

Immediately, it was all go - just months into his command, the station moved into its new brand new building.

"I saw us through the build, it had lots of challenges all of the way, but the teams work very hard.

"We had no actual station or yard to train in, so we had to improvise. But that is what the fire service is really good at."

And it's that improvisation that he says has got his station through one of the biggest changes it will ever see - the transformation into a Covid vaccine hub.

Last month, NHS staff and firefighters started administering jabs, but all the while the crew maintain full responsiveness.

"It all happened very quickly, from being talked about in mid December to getting it up and running at the end of January.

"It was a huge workload to overcome. The appliance room is now a clinical area. On a day-to-day basis, our firefighters don't use that area.

"I think we are one of the best agencies at being able to adapt and overcome.

"It has been fantastic working with the NHS and the relationships we are building moving forward.

"Right at the start when I joined the fire service I wanted to help people and this is just an example of how well we have managed to achieve this. It is not just about the drama of going to fire calls all the time, it is about how we can help in many other ways."

In the last four years, he has responded to some of the region's biggest incidents, including the fire that gutted Ocado in 2019, and was in command at a 14-fire engine blaze in Aldershot last year.

Keith, now 55, says the biggest thing he will miss about the job is his colleagues, saying "it is all about the people".

"It has been an honour to serve my community. I have worked with some great teams over the years," he added.

"A special thanks to my wife and my family for supporting me through my career."