A ten-year-old boy called in to meet Wearside's firefighters as part of his mission to visit every station in the UK.
Andrew Impey enjoyed a whistle stop tour of Tyne and Wear’s 17 community fire stations and headquarters on the latest leg of his mission to visit all 2,300 fire stations in the UK.
The youngster, who lives with autism, could barely read or write, struggled with maths, had poor social skills and found it very difficult to communicate with new people.
But, since he visited Havant Fire Station in December 2014 he has taught himself to read and write and has been inspired to set up his own Twitter account #OneLadsChallenge.
He is using his marathon tour to raise money for the Firefighters Charity and increase awareness of autism. So far he has visited 690 fire stations over the last 18 months. Andrew originally had a fundraising target of £999, but the running total has now reached £1,150.
On Thursday he had a guided tour of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters at Washington, including the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) facilities, Training Centre and Control Room. He also met the service’s USAR dog, Spencer, before visiting the fire stations in the south of the region.
To celebrate his visit, Andrew was presented with a certificate, plaque and other souvenirs by Assistant Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther.
The following day Andrew, who lives in Portsmouth, completed his Tyne and Wear journey by meeting crews at fire stations in the north of the region, topped off with a ride in the fireboat on the River Tyne.
Andrew’s mother, Kirstine Impey, said: “Two years ago Andrew had a reading age of four and did not speak very much, especially to strangers. Since we started the fire station visits his reading age has gone up to eight years and he is learning all time. As far as I’m concerned, the fire and rescue service is brilliant and they can do no wrong.”
Chris Lowther said: “It was a pleasure to meet Andrew and to see and hear his enthusiasm and knowledge of the fire and rescue service.
“From speaking to his mum, I know his tour of the country’s fire stations has really helped his personal development. And the fact that he is raising money for the Firefighters Charity and promoting awareness of autism along the way is fantastic. He’s part of our family now.”
Deborah Garland, North East Autism Resource Centre manager for the National Autism Society, added: “Autism affects one in a hundred people in the UK, so anything we can do to raise people’s awareness is very important. The way Andrew is using his particular interest in the fire service to help raise awareness, and the support from his family, is fantastic.”