A FIREFIGHTER who lit a spark in thousands of young minds, is retiring after 30 years of service.
Sunderland-born Mark Skelton joined the fire service after moving to London, but returned to set up home in Ashbrooke after wife Jan secured a headteaching position in the North East.
The 51-year-old has spent the past six years giving fire safety talks to city school children for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, warning them about the dangers of playing with matches and what do in a house fire.
Firefighter Skelton gave his last-ever talk during Schools Fire Safety Week, at St Paul’s CofE Primary School in Ryhope, after handing out advice to around 134 classes each year in 94 schools.
The dad-of-two became part of what is now the service’s prevention and education team after suffering a shoulder injury during his time at Fulwell fire station.
After six months he was going into schools to visit classrooms of Year One and Year Five pupils.
Although the fire safety message remains the same – get out, stay out, get the fire service out – Mark is pleased to see that over the years, more children say their families have smoke alarms.
He said: “It’s basic fire safety messages, not playing with matches and lighters and basic fire plans, like stop, drop and roll and in Year five you build on that and start talking about anti-social fires and hoax calls.
“Every class is different and they have their own character; how they respond to you and the questions you get asked.”
Apart from being an avid Black Cats fan, Mark has no plans for his retirement, but said he would like to return to the classroom and work with children again.
The fire service district manager for Sunderland, John Hall, said: “Preventing fires from happening in the first place is a crucial part of our role and this is a great opportunity for us to help achieve this.
“By targeting schoolchildren, we can help change the behaviour of future generations and influence their families, too.
“Mark Skelton has done a fantastic job to educate thousands of children about fire safety over the last six years. I thank him for his hard work and dedication and wish him a long and happy retirement.”