THERE are few sights as heartwarming and upsetting as seeing a child smile from a hospital bed.

The simple pleasure of a cuddly toy allows them to briefly forget the enormity of life and that is why every year it the firefighters of Whitley Wood rally to bring them the joy of Christmas.

It is probably easier to forget about it, but many of the children at the Royal Berkshire Hospital were not allowed to spend the festive season with their families.

When I asked the crew why they enjoy such a demanding job, it is very simple. They all want to be able to make a difference, to save lives and the opportunity to make children happy goes hand in hand with the service they provide every day.

Martyn Ainsworth has only been a part of the team for a short while, but was keen to bring the initiative back into action.

He said: “Taking presents to the hospital is something the emergency services always used to do, but until recently it had been stopped for some reason.

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“I decided to bring it back last year and we managed to raise money for the hospital and give them presents. A lot of what we do in this job is about helping the community and at Christmas there is nothing that gives us more pleasure than being able to help children who might be spending all their time in hospital.”

You need to be a community-driven personality to be a member of the fire service and it is certainly not a career you enter into half-heartedly.

I had an overwhelming feeling of disappointment when I spoke with the crew. It is clear they all love their job and continue to train hard on a daily basis to stay at the top of their game, but cuts continue to hit the fire service in ways people could not have imagined.

Firefighters have had their pensions stripped and you would be shocked to learn how little the job pays considering how many different skills you need to make it and keep your job.

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As well as the clichés of pulling people from burning buildings and saving a cat from a tree, firefighters have to be trained in water rescue operations and cutting people free from cars.

“It is hard to speak for everyone, but I would like to think we all get into this job for the same reason,” crew manager Mark Brownsmith explained.

“Having the chance to save lives is huge and for every bad day you have you can turn to those times when you know you have made a difference and know it is worthwhile.

“It is a lot of hard work and the hours are not always fun. It takes a bit of getting used to.”

Just like the children stuck in hospital, many firefighters and other members of the emergency services will not have seen much of their family over Christmas and we should never take for granted the ability to count on such hard-working and dedicated people at any hour of the day. They truly are heroes.