Suffolk firefighter Alan Soards' full honours funeral

Alan Soards
Image caption Alan Soards also taught schoolchildren fire and road safety

A "strong, brave and generous" Suffolk firefighter who died on a training exercise has been given a fire service funeral with full honours.

Alan Soards, 38, a member of white watch at Lowestoft South fire station, died at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire on 2 October.

Jackie and Michael Soards said their son, of Oulton Broad, was "always talking about how great his job was".

A service for Norfolk-born Mr Soards was held in Gorleston earlier.

He was taken ill in the water during routine swimming exercise as part of his swift water rescue training at Lee Valley.

The fire service said he was immediately rescued by his colleagues but died within a few minutes.

Representatives from every fire and rescue service in the country have been invited to the funeral at St Andrew's Church in Gorleston-on-Sea, the town where Mr Soards grew up.

His coffin was carried from his fire station on a restored fire engine, and a piper led pallbearers into the church through a Guard of Honour of firefighters and standard bearers.

Mr Soards - "Knuckles" to his colleagues - was a respected and much-loved firefighter for 11 years, the fire service said.

He had also volunteered for many years as a crew member of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston RNLI.

In a statement, Jackie and Michael Soards said: "Alan was a strong, brave, generous, non-materialistic and honest man.

"He lived to clearly defined and strongly held no-nonsense values.

"If something interested him he threw his heart and soul into it."

'Made us laugh'

They added Mr Soards, who had a degree in applied physics from Coventry University, loved extreme sports and his dog Tyson was his "pride and joy".

"[He was] always talking about how great his job was and what he was going to do next; making us laugh about the funny things that happened.

"He never boasted about his awards and achievements. In fact, had he not died, we probably would never have known about them.

"He died doing what he loved, surrounded by people whom he cared about and respected.

"We now know that feeling was reciprocated."

Neil Henderson, the watch commander who oversaw white watch, said: "Alan loved nothing more than being with his fire service friends, whether it was hurtling down a fast moving river, driving the flood rescue boats or instructing kids in road safety and fitness.

"Al was a first class firefighter and friend.

"We will all miss him dearly and will always treasure the banter we had, and the memories."

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