A firefighter who once had to crawl down a sewage drain to save a sheep because he was the thinnest has retired after more than 30 years in the job.

Darren Smith has served as a firefighter for 36 years and four months, with his career mainly as an on-call part-time firefighter, but with spells working in full-time roles at Burton and Cannock.

Firefighting is in his blood after following in his dad Alf's footsteps, he said.

Alf was a firefighter at Wombourne until his retirement in March 1982 and growing up in a household where the call to attend a fire or road accident could come at any moment was perfectly normal for Darren.

And Darren certainly believes in keeping it in the family - he is also married to a firefighter from West Midlands Fire Service.

As he looks back on his three decades with the service, Darren recalls busy periods, particularly the long, hot summers such as 1995 where he helped tackle heathland blazes. He has dealt with fires were people have died, forest fires, road accidents and rescued dozens of trapped horses, cats, birds, pigs and dogs.

He said: "Once a sheep had got up a sewerage pipe and was trapped. I was youngest and thinnest, so I got sent in. I had to crawl up there and it wasn’t nice but I got him out."

On-call firefighters must live close to work to respond quickly when their ‘alerter’ goes off but few can live as close as Darren who counts his commute in metres rather than minutes.

He signed up as soon as he was 18 in 1984. It all seems a long time ago now. Duran Duran, Wham and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were riding high in the charts when Darren joined the service in Staffordshire.

He said: "I've loved it and I'm sorry to go. I'd really do it all again. And to anyone thinking about firefighting as a career, I'd say go for it."

Darren, who is 55 this month and has worked in various factories alongside his fire service role, is retiring after some recent ill health and recalls a very different fire service to the one he leaves today.

He said: "I'm looking forward to free time but it's going to be such a change and I know I'm going to miss it."

"At training school there was so much discipline. Boots had to be gleaming as our instructors were ex-Forces and we wore blazers and marched in step to lunch.

"Culturally it was so different. I've seen a lot of change, such as the role of the service going from almost purely response-based to prevention. This has been a really important step."

Darren says he has regularly done 100 to120 hours on-call a week so it will be unusual stopping.

He said: "You don't know what's coming when you get that call. But over and above everything else I've loved serving my community. It's such a good feeling."

He has also had to deal with some difficult and distressing incidents, such as the first fire death he attended in 1986 - and says talking it through with family and colleagues helped a great deal.

Darren said: "The job helps people develop in so many ways. It's great for confidence and challenging yourself and that feeling of helping people when they really need you.

Get more news for your area by typing your postcode here:

"My advice (when things return to some normality) is come down for a cup of tea and meet the firefighters and chat to them and see what they do. Go for it. It could be the best move you ever make. It was for me."

On-call firefighters are needed across the county by Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The role has the same prevention, protection and response responsibilities of a whole-time firefighter and can be physically rigorous and require mental resilience, a spokesman for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has said.

It is a rigorous selection process with an online application, interview and further tests, as well as medical and physical checks, before training begins.

Staffordshire Live newsletter April 15 2021

Here are the top stories from the StaffordshireLive newsletter

Want to sign up to receive these stories straight to your inbox? It's free and means you'll never miss out on the most important Staffordshire news of the day

You can sign up for free here

Not signed up yet but want to try it out?

You can read a preview of today's newsletter here