Poplar ‘teaboy’ Steve Dudeney retires as London Fire Brigade’s Tower Hamlets Commander
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A teaboy making cuppas for firemen who ended up as the London Fire Brigade’s borough commander for Tower Hamlets is retiring after 30 years.
Steve Dudeney, who started his ‘career’ at 14 volunteering to cook and make tea at Poplar fire station, finally hangs up his boots and helmet this week at 49.
He grew up in London’s East End two streets from the fire station and decided at nursery school that he wanted to be a fireman.
He spent evenings as a teenager with fire crews who help him achieve his dream.
Steve has covered major incidents including the Canary Wharf IRA bombing in 1996 in which two men were killed and 50 other people were injured.
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His career also includes the 2011 riots and the London terror attacks last year, finally ending with the largest grass fire in the brigade’s history in Wanstead a week ago.
“I remember being on a fire engine at Shadwell fire station when I was at nursery,” Steve recalls.
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“I was thinking then that this was what I want to do—and never grew out of it.
“I went to Poplar fire station on Bonfire Night when I was 14 and asked to cook them dinner—the rest is history really.”
He became friends with the crews who helped him before he enrolled in training school at 18, but was shocked at the difference between being around trained firefighters and the “military style boot camp” he landed in.
“It was 20 weeks of tough training,” he recalls. “A lot of my squad were ex-military.
“It was a culture shock and definitely made me grow up quickly, but I never once wanted to give up.”
Steve was stationed at Bethnal Green on blue watch and his first shift followed the day of the King’s Cross fire in 1987.
The incident was a shock to the new recruit—his station officer Colin Townsley had died. He stayed at Bethnal Green for two years before transferring to Poplar, the station in East India Dock Road where he had spent time at as a teenager.
This time, he returned as a leading firefighter before moving to Plaistow fire station. He rose through the brigade ranks, serving at Bow, Poplar again, Millwall, Homerton and Harold Hill, then promoted to group manager at Brigade headquarters in 2010.
He became Borough Commander for Hackney in 2013, then finally returned to the East End as Borough Commander for Tower Hamlets where it all began, making it “like the completing a circle”.
Steve looks forward to finally spending more time with his wife Joanne and three daughters Charlotte, Abigail and Imogen, before starting work as a fire and resilience consultant.