Over the past 43 years he is estimated to have clocked up an astonishing average of 335,000 hours on call, ready to save the lives of people in Helston and further afield at a moment's notice.

But now Helston Fire Station manager Keith Stringer can turn off his pager, after retiring from the service.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered at the station last Tuesday for a send-off for Keith, who was presented with a certificate and honorary mounted fire axe by Cornwall's chief fire officer Kathryn Billing.

Colleagues had also clubbed together to buy Keith a Seiko watch and meal out with his wife Diane, who was also presented with a large bouquet.

Keith was left delighted by the turnout in his honour, telling the Packet: "It was a very big surprise – I wasn't expecting that at all."

After 43 and a half years as a retained fire fighter, the last 16 years of them as station manager at Helston, his retirement will mark something of a life change – particularly for a man who averages around 150 hours on call, and available to leave at any moment, every week.

Falmouth Packet:

Keith marks his retirement with family, friends and colleagues  Picture: Kathy White

Mark Skinner, who has been promoted to watch manager while Dale Reardon takes over as station manager, said: "His commitment has been absolutely second to none.

"Most are on 65 hours in the week, but I think his commitment is usually around 150 hours a week.

"I don't think anyone else could ever cover those sort of hours. He's basically given his life to it.

"It's so commendable it's unreal."

Keith said that it was a love for the job that kept him going all that time.

"I just love doing it," said the 63-year-old. "Some of it has not been nice, of course, but most of it was absolutely brilliant."

He said his wife and children had become used to him dashing off as they were about to go out, or in the middle of an event, adding that he had missed "only a few" big family occasions in that time.

Falmouth Packet:

 Keith with the certificate and axe presented on his retirement    Picture: Kathy White

One big highlight of his career had been becoming an MBE in 2013 for services to the fire service and young people of Cornwall, through his involvement with the Phoenix Project, working alongside Karen Harvey to help raise the skills and aspirations of teenagers.

Keith has seen many changes over the last five decades, in particular with equipment, but also the way the personnel are alerted to an emergency.

Before the days of pagers, there was a bell – "a big bell at that" – installed in each firefighter's house, which rang if they were needed, day or night.

"I wasn't the only one that woke up in the night – the whole house did!" he said.

Keith said the time was right to stand down, however, adding: "Thank you to everybody that I've worked with within the fire station and Phoenix group. It's been brilliant."