A LONG-SERVING firefighter has received official recognition for his decades of service protecting people in the community where he lives.

Watch Commander William Bellshaw has put in more than 35 years volunteering at Cove fire station for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and, before it, Strathclyde Fire Brigade and Strathclyde Fire and Rescue.

He received a certificate at the village fire station recently to mark 30 years of service - though delays in making the presentation, for a variety of reasons, mean he now has a record that reaches up to, and beyond, 35 years.

William told the Advertiser that the job has changed over the decades, particularly as training expands to respond to other incidents even as fires decrease becaude more homes are staying safe from blazes.

"It's just knowing you're making a difference," he said.

"People get to know who you are. It's nice you're kind of recognised in the community.

"It doesn't take much to save a life. But we get extensive training, and it's nice to know you make a difference to someone's life from your intervention as a firefighter.

Get unlimited access to the Helensburgh Advertiser's online content: www.helensburghadvertiser.co.uk/subscribe

"I've been in the job since my 20s. Back in the day, it was local tradesmen who manned the station becaude they worked in the village, so they were deemed the right candidates."

William, who is still a local builder, said his boss at work when he was younger was in charge of Cove station, so it was a natural progression for him to join.

And he has two cousins who were full-time firefighters, based in Clydebank.

"I knew what was involved in the job, and the commitment," he said.

"I was 22 when I joined. I was in the coastguard service at Kilcreggan but couldn't be in both services.

"At the time the coastguard was quite quiet so it seemed a natural progression."

Until recently, volunteer firefighters had to retire at 55 - but in 2013 it was decided that mandatory retirement age didn't comply with human rights legislation.

Cove station has been around since 1939, said William - though the present station building dates from 2001 - and it has a history of being run by a sub officer.

"It just seemed natural to follow in the footsteps," he said.

Get the latest news direct to your inbox at www.helensburghadvertiser.co.uk/newsletters

How has the job changed in more than three decades?

"Health and safety is a massive issue now," he explained. "

"And we are controlled by computer. We log-in our availability, where before it was word of mouth knowing where your crew was.

"It used to be the air raid siren up to the early 1980s to alert the crews to the station.

"Then we went on to pagers. Now it's computers - they know if you're available before they even call you out."

The other major change is the type of incidents they respond to. Blazes caused by deep-fat fryers, coal fires and cigarette smoking - historically three of the biggest risks of fires in domestic settings - have declined steadily, particularly over more recent years.

And the fire service has prioritised prevention, too, with home safety visits and talks to school pupils now part of every firefighter's routing.

"Training is pretty diverse now," said William. "Firefighting has taken a step back because of home fire safety and school visits.

"We've diversified to other responders, from road traffic accidents to water rescues."

William added: "You're never away from the job. It's nice to spread information and give people advice.

"People look to you for advice. You're always part of the community and always part of the fire service."