Worthing firefighter who helped save lives across the globe retires after almost 30 years

A Worthing firefighter who helped to save lives across the globe is retiring after almost 30 years of service.
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Joe Sacco is part of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Technical Rescue Unit. In his career, he has been sent to Indonesia, Japan and Nepal to help in the wake of natural distasters.

He said: “Looking back on my career with West Sussex, I would like to thank the service for giving me the opportunity to do what I love.

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“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my family and my wife, who have supported me when family plans, birthdays and holidays have been put on hold while I am deployed to respond to an incident.

Joe Sacco with Station Manager Lee WaltonJoe Sacco with Station Manager Lee Walton
Joe Sacco with Station Manager Lee Walton

“It has been more than just a job – it is a family – and the people you meet along the way mould you into who you become.”

Joe joined the fire service in April 1991 as a retained firefighter at Worthing Fire Station. After realising this was the career for him, he successfully secured a full-time position, first serving as a probationer at Horley for two years before returning to his home town and station at Worthing where he joined White Watch.

Not long after, he joined West Sussex’s volunteer International Search and Rescue team, alongside his position at Worthing.

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But following the 9/11 terror attacks, focus on disaster relief was stepped up throughout the world, and Joe joined the newly-formed UK Search and Rescue.

Joe Sacco has retired from West Sussex Fire and Rescue ServiceJoe Sacco has retired from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service
Joe Sacco has retired from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service

This has seen him take part in training exercises across the world with other emergency service staff in Europe and beyond. His first overseas deployment came in 2009 when he went to support in the wake of the earthquake in Indonesia, followed by Japan in 2011 and Nepal in 2015.

But it was responding to an incident on West Sussex soil that has had the most profound impact on Joe.

He said: “As much as being part of those international rescue missions left their mark, it was attending the Shoreham Airshow disaster in 2015 that proved to be the most challenging.

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“This was an incident on home soil, affecting people in communities I had grown up in and served in.”

But a happier side to the role of the TRU has been the many hundreds of animals they have reunited with their owners over the years; from dogs and cats to horses and cows.

He said: “For many people, their animals are their family, and seeing their animal in distress can make them put their own safety at risk trying to help them. We would much rather they called us to help, so that we can put a safe system of work in place to rescue their animal.”

Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Jon Lacey, who served in the TRU for ten years, said: “Joe was great fun to work with and always stepped up to the challenge, working with him as a swift water rescue instructor was the most fun of all. The operational deployments overseas were certainly challenging and Joe always worked hard to make a difference to his team and people’s lives literally the other side of the world as well in his local communities.

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“The team and our service will miss Joe’s experience and camaraderie and I wish him the best of luck in his future.”

Chief Fire Officer Sabrina Cohen-Hatton said: “As one of the founding members of WSFRS’s TRU many years ago, Joe’s extensive knowledge, enthusiasm and desire to get the job done have proven infectious. He will be sorely missed right across the service, as will his eye for the perfect photograph. Enjoy your retirement Joe.”

You can follow the work of WSFRS’s TRU on Instagram at @WSFRS_TRU and twitter at @WSFRS_TRU.