When Dave Farries began his career as a firefighter, the Vietnam War was still raging, and Harold Wilson was in his first term as prime minister.
The year was 1968, and this fresh-faced teenager had swapped his home in the Scottish Borders to begin a new life as a junior firefighter with the South Eastern Fire Brigade in Edinburgh.
Fifty years on, Farries is now widely regarded as a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service institution. The 66-year-old is one of the longest serving members of any fire and rescue service in the United Kingdom.
Farries’ half-century of public service has included lengthy spells as a firefighter, instructor and investigator, and today he holds the position of a trusted oracle, tasked with cataloguing and preserving the rich heritage of firefighting in Scotland.
“I’ve still got it up here, you see,” laughs the granddad of three, wryly pointing to his head. “I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t struggle to run up several flights of stairs with a line of hose in my hand and a cylinder on my back today in the same way I used to. But believe me, I’ve got plenty to give yet.”
Originally from Hawick, Farries has served his entire career in and around Edinburgh and the east of Scotland, and has worked in all but one of the capital’s fire stations.
Recalling his early days in the capital, he says: “Edinburgh was a very different place then. I was a 16-year-old boy from the Borders, and it was a real eye-opener for me. When I first went on the run, we had Niddrie, Greendykes, and to a lesser extent Portobello on our patch. They were rough places. The poverty was just unbelievable.”
For all his years on the frontline, Farries laughs off the physical strain of the job. “My body’s certainly took a wee bit of a pounding over the years,” he says.
“I’ve still got a few marks and scars, mainly from the old breathing apparatus sets that we used to use. They were fitted with these metal bits that would heat up and scar your face, would you believe? But that was long ago, and dare I say it … I’ve been lucky. I ended up in hospital quite a few times, but nothing major.”
Today, Farries lives in Currie, south-west Edinburgh, with his wife Michelle, 64 and daughter, Linzi. December has been a busy month. When he’s not on granddad duty, raising money for the Fire Fighters Charity or cataloguing, Farries volunteers his services in a very festive way. “I’ve been Santa for more than 30 years at the nursery my two boys went to,” he reveals.
His family is steeped in firefighting history. Farries’ father-in-law William Connor was a former deputy firemaster with Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, while his son, also David, has followed the same line.
“My dad’s clearly left his mark on so many people,” says Farries junior, 42, who is currently the deputy assistant chief officer responsible for the North of Scotland.
“He’s always been a quiet and reserved guy, but all throughout my career I’ve had people telling me how he’s helped them, or how much they’ve enjoyed working alongside him. It’s also thanks to people like my dad and his colleagues that we have such a strong national fire and rescue service in Scotland today.”
In 2014 Dave was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal at Holyrood Palace for his “conspicuous devotion to duty” – but he still insists his tenure pales in comparison to wife Michelle.
“People talk about my service career, and sticking around so long – but Michelle’s technically been in the fire brigade longer than me,” he says.
“Michelle’s dad, Willie, joined in 1954 and they lived in a brigade house at Lauriston from when Michelle was very young. Believe me, she’s as steeped in the fire service as anyone.”