Earthquakes, cats up trees, horses in ditches: a lifetime of rescues remembered


Release date: 19 November 2020

Supporting in the rescue missions in the wake of earthquakes in Indonesia, Nepal and Japan are all in a lifetime’s work for firefighter Joe Sacco who this week retires from West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service after almost 30 years of service.

Joe, who is part of WSFRS’s Technical Rescue Unit (TRU), joined the fire service in April 1991 as a retained firefighter at Worthing Fire Station. After realising that this was the career for him, he successfully secured a wholetime 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 this, he joined West Sussex’s volunteer International Search and Rescue team, serving alongside his wholetime position at Worthing.

But following the 9/11 terror attacks, focus on disaster relief was stepped up throughout the world, and WSFRS was one of the first organisations to become part of the new nationwide UKSAR with the formation of the TRU.

“That meant leaving the comfort of my home town and my home station, but I was very excited to be part of a new era within the fire service,” said Joe. 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. 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. “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.

“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. 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.

“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.”

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.

"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

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