A BICESTER firefighter who worked alongside soldiers abroad has retired after 42 years.

Joining on October 24, 1978, Ossie Dias-Gunawardena worked for the Defence Fire Service covering the Ministry of Defence sites in Bicester.

His career also saw him volunteer as a firefighter to accompany the army and he did three tours of duty in Kosovo and Iraq in 2002-2003 at the height of the hostilities.

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The tours involved training local people as firefighters and supporting troops.

Mr Dias-Gunawardena said: “The tours were probably the hardest I’ve ever done in my life. Back home, if you have a problem and you need another fire appliance you just ring through to control and they make sure that happens.

“But when you’re in the middle of the desert and you have an incident, well, you have to stay there until what you’ve got to do is done because you are the only people out there. And that was really tiring but interesting.”

The 61-year-old said his time serving was completely different to being at home and that the scale of incidents in Iraq were a lot more ‘intense’.

One of the incidents he remembers involved him putting out 17 fuel tankers that were on fire.

He said: “Out there they need fuel so they have convoys of 20 odd tankers going up the main route between Kuwait and Baghdad and accidents will happen - which they did.

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“We were out to put a fire out - we didn’t know what it was - and we came across a fuel convoy with about 20 fuel tankers, but 17 were ablaze. We spent three days with the army looking after us putting out these tankers which was tiring, very exciting adrenaline-pumping, but obviously a little bit dangerous.”

Working in extremely hot temperatures in Iraq, Mr Dias-Gunawardena who has a wife called Tracey and four children, would wear shorts, a T-shirt and trainers but when he was called out would have to wear his fire kit.

He was awarded a number of medals including the Long Service and Good Conduct Medals and Queens Gold and Silver Jubilee Medals.

Mr Dias-Gunawardena is grateful for the support of his wife and family over the years.

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He added: “Without the support of Tracey and the kids none of this would have been possible. As much as it was an adventure for me to go and do these things it was obviously a toil for Tracey to be at home with the kids - all school-aged - while I was away.

"For Tracey to be ferrying them backwards and forwards while I was out of the country was obviously a lot of hard work and without her doing that I couldn't have been out of the country on these deployments."

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