Heathrow’s longest serving firefighter, Andy “Peter Pan” Preston, will retire this week after 40 years and 9 months working at the airport. We caught up with Andy to hear his story and see some of the great pics from his time at the airport.
After initially beginning his career as a firefighter in the Royal Air Force, Andy began working at Heathrow in March 1977 after a recommendation from a friend in the service.
Back then, BAA Firefighters, as they were known as then, also operated an Emergency Ambulance section on top of their fire-fighting duties.
Andy, who lives in Windsor, recalls how he has seen the airport and the service change dramatically in the four decades since.
When I first started at Heathrow there was no Terminal 4 or 5, no Piccadilly Line service, and a third-runway – 23/05 – which was used during cross winds. The aircraft in use were also a lot different, and noisier, aircraft like VC10s, Tridents and BAC One-Elevens.
Andy Preston, Firefighter
“A lot of the kit has also changed in that time in the fire service, for instance when I first started we were using Nubian major fire tenders and now we’re using the state-of-the-art Rosenbauer Panthers.”
“Operating the ambulance section was also a really challenging and rewarding job as we’d be busy helping out passengers with medical conditions, who were unable to get on and off aircraft, as well as assisting emergency patients.”
Watching Concorde for the final time…
In 2003, Andy was on hand to celebrate the Concorde after it touched down from its final commercial flight at the airport – his favourite memory from his career.
“Concorde flights had just started at the airport when I began working here and it was as if the whole airport stopped whenever it took off and simply marvelled at it.”
“Needless to say, I’ll always remember being on duty when they flew the Concorde fleet for the last time at the airport. I was on one of the firetrucks that gave a ceremonial water cannon salute (arch) to the three final flights shortly after they all landed – a moment I’ll never forget.”
Amazingly, Andy didn’t actually want to be a firefighter in the beginning.
“I initially wanted to be a police dog handler but when I was told by the RAF recruitment office in 1972 that I was not big enough and there were no vacancies the recruitment officer persuaded me to become a firefighter.”
“By chance, the officer was himself an ex-RAF firefighter. In the end he helped me make the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Andy was nicknamed “Peter Pan” as his colleagues believed he “never grew up” despite his long tenure at the airport.
After he hangs up the uniform, Andy is looking forward to getting married in May next year to his fiancee Susan, and finding a new working challenge.
Andy will complete his final shift on 26 December, Boxing Day. From all of us at Heathrow we say thank you!