A retained firefighter from Yelverton has praised the partnership between the fire service and the garden where he works full-time as a gardener – which has been recognised by a prestigious award.

David Milburn, 64, works for the public attraction The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum, which generously allows him to drop his spade at a moment’s notice when summoned to 999 calls at Yelverton Fire Station.

The public spirit and flexibility of the Garden House has been rewarded by the presentation of a Devon and Somerset Fire Service platinum award – the first time the trophy and certificate have been given to an employer.

Fire service area manager Wayne Rawlins handed the trophy to Maria Outram, Garden House operations manager, at a ceremony at Yelverton Fire Station.

Mr Rawlins said: “The Garden House has supported, encouraged and released David, their employee, from work, meaning that he has been able to offer continued on-call cover to his local community for 37 years. It is a great occasion and huge pleasure to be able to present this award.”

David said: “It’s very good for The Garden House to receive this award which helps support fire service cover for the area. I can drop anything I’m doing at work if I get alerted to a house or moor fire or a car crash or a trapped animal. The Garden House is very flexible and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship because not many employers are able to give such freedom to their staff to respond to callouts in this way.

“In return I pass on the knowledge of the excellent training I get in the service to my colleagues at The Garden House. This includes health and safety, fire prevention, fire safety and first aid, while they are also supporting a crucial public service for a rural community. There aren’t enough retained firefighters, especially in rural areas, so therefore, my role and The Garden House support is even more important.”

David, who has two older sons and two teenage daughters, joined the fire service after leaving the Navy to spend more time with his family, after service in the Falklands and worldwide service. He enjoyed the adventure of the Navy and even named his daughter Phoebe after one of the warships he served in.

He said: “I tried several jobs, including on the family farm, but it didn’t have the combination of an adrenalin rush and outdoor life as the Navy.

“So, in the end I found the perfect combination of working outdoors here at The Garden House with the excitement of working for the fire service and not knowing what was happening when I was on a shout. But also having the job satisfaction of doing a job to make a difference and serve the community and wider public, a bit like being in the Navy.”

He has a wide-ranging role as a firefighter, driving, using cutting gear to free crashed vehicle occupants and wearing breathing apparatus to fight house fires.

“I recommend it to anyone who wants to serve their community with some excitement,” he said.