Tony Cowling was destined to become a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) from day one. He came from a long line of firefighters, with his father, grandfather and great grandfather all firefighters in MFB.
His father, firefighter Jim Cowling met Tony’s mother, Mary Hubbard while they were both living at the same fire station. Mary’s father, Charles Hubbard was the station officer.
Tony grew up living on fire stations, like his mother Mary did. He remembers fondly his first fifteen years living at the station.
I was around the station all day … I was hanging around the watch room or upstairs playing pool, or sitting around listening to them talk.
He loved being there and would help out, washing the appliances and cleaning the station.
He always knew when a fire call came in as there were bells throughout the living quarters that his family occupied, even in the bedrooms. There were many times that Tony would ride his bike with his mates to those calls and watch the firefighters at work. Occasionally, he’d be given a ride back to the station on the hose carriage.
Tony wanted to be a firefighter for as long as he could remember. When he turned 18 he joined the Special Services Department (now FES) while he waited until he was 21 – the minimum age to apply as a firefighter back then. In January 1978, Tony joined recruit course 26 and within 12 weeks, had graduated as a recruit firefighter. As he remembers back then, ‘it really just involved all hands-on firefighting. We used to run, do hose drill, run lines, put up ladders, operate pumps. Everything practical. We were hardly in the classroom’.
Having been part of MFB for over 43 years, Tony has seen a lot of change. From better firefighting equipment, to the introduction of Emergency Medical Response (EMR), water response, HART (high angle rescue) and USAR (urban search and rescue). The biggest change, however, was the introduction of women into operational roles. It was a change that meant his own daughter, Rachel, was able to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a firefighter. Tony and all his family are very proud of Rachel and her carrying on the family tradition. She is the fifth generation to join MFB.
Tony says that being a firefighter is the best job in the world. He would encourage anyone thinking of becoming a firefighter to do everything they can to get in.