Hampshire crews have entered the history books as the first fire and rescue service in the country to perform the dragon dance at the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Nine members of the team – including six St Mary’s firefighters and three members of staff from the organisation’s Eastleigh headquarters - performed at West Quay on Sunday.
The colourful eight-minute dance was part of a five-hour show put on by the Chinese Association of Southampton at the city shopping centre.
The dragon dance aims to depict the movements of a river spirit and according to mythology the dragon represents several qualities and bestows good luck on the community.
The 15-metre creature in Southampton was a dazzling combination of silver, gold, green and red.
Association vice chairman Andy Lai said:
"When people think of Chinese New Year they think of the lion dance and the dragon dance - it was fitting therefore that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service took on this important role to show the special and ongoing relationship we share.
"This event was to promote Chinese culture and help members of different communities integrate, and the fire service have been an important part of that - they have really helped develop trust and the message that 'we are your friends'."
"Watching the participants practice emphasised to me the enthusiasm, leadership and teamwork the organisation is known for and we are gratefully for their involvement."
Several members of HFRS, and their families, attended as spectators including Assisant Chief Fire Officer Stew Adamson.
The dragon was made up of Group Manager Tony Deacon, Watch Manager Tim Harrison, Inclusion and Diversity Partner Dalvinder Rai, Firefighter Paul Sheppard, Analyst Researcher Pinky Rai, Firefighter Ewan Brown, Analyst Melissa LeBrun, Firefighter Tony Treweek and Station Manager Paul Parry.
Watch Manager Harrison, who helped organise the performance, said:
“We have a wonderful relationship with the local community and work very closely with groups such as the Chinese Association of Southampton.
“It was an honour to be invited to take part in this event and I would like to thanks the crews and staff who gave up their own time to practice and make sure we got it right.
“It is thanks to the hard work of the association – and others – that the fire service enjoys a special place at the heart of the community.”
He went on to thank the vice chair and Chair Michael Ng for the time they both gave up to teach the dance to those taking part.
Thousands turned out to watch the performance and many members of the audience called for the dragon to return to the stage.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority Chairman Councillor Chris Carter said:
"The fire service have a special place at the heart of the community and events like this promote and highlight that.
"It is an honour that our crews were invited to take on such an important role in the celebrations.
"It is very important that all communities in the county know we are there to help and the work of the crews at St Mary's Fire Station and community leaders is inspirational."
Watch Manager Harrison said talks are already underway regarding next year's event.
The event had 23 acts featuring about 250 performers.