Firefighters take on 10-day cycle challenge

The NIFRS Station2Station cycle team - Mark McWhirter, Andy Beavis, Noel McKee and Gareth Lowry - during their visit to Lisburn Fire Station on Monday, May 8.
The NIFRS Station2Station cycle team - Mark McWhirter, Andy Beavis, Noel McKee and Gareth Lowry - during their visit to Lisburn Fire Station on Monday, May 8.

Two Lisburn firefighters are part of a four-man team taking on a gruelling cycle challenge in support of two local charities.

Andy Beavis, a firefighter at Lisburn Station, and Gareth Lowry, a watch commander in the Occupational Health Department at NIFRS headquarters in Lisburn, set off on their 10-day challenge on Monday, May 8, alongside fellow team members Mark McWhirter, a watch commander in Glengormley District and Noel McKee, a firefighter based at Whitla Station.

NIFRS Station2Station cycle team members Mark McWhirter, Andy Beavis and Noel McKee with Lee Campbell, MindWise and Valerie Saunders, NI Chest Heart Stroke.

NIFRS Station2Station cycle team members Mark McWhirter, Andy Beavis and Noel McKee with Lee Campbell, MindWise and Valerie Saunders, NI Chest Heart Stroke.

The Station2Station Cycle in support of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke and MindWise was the brainchild of firefighter McKee, who is also a trained counsellor.

The team are cycling to all 68 fire stations in Northern Ireland and, together with their charity partners, will deliver a talk at two secondary schools each day of the 10-day cycle. Public information nights will also be held at six fire stations as part of the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service’s ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’ initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of keeping both your mental and physical health in good shape.

The start of the team’s epic journey marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 (May 8-14).

On the first day of the challenge the four riders visited Lisburn, Ballynahinch, Carryduff and Dunmurry fire stations, as well as NIFRS headquarters in Lisburn.

As part of a partnership agreement with Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke and MindWise, NIFRS is working with the charities to promote mental and physical wellbeing amongst NIFRS staff and the wider community.

Group Commander Keith Black, NIFRS Occupational Health & Wellbeing, explains: “As Firefighters, we know the importance of maintaining physical fitness throughout our careers. What is equally important, however, is our mental fitness, and through this new initiative we hope to remove some of the fear people may have about talking about their mental health, both amongst our own staff and the in wider public.”

Declan Cunnane, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, commented: “We are delighted to be working alongside NIFRS. Forty per cent of adult deaths in Northern Ireland are from chest, heart or stroke illnesses. Living with a long term health condition is not easy, physically, mentally and emotionally, for the individual or their family. That is why it is so important to increase people’s knowledge about how they can keep healthy and decrease their risk of developing these illnesses. On a personal note, I am a keen cyclist myself and hope to join Noel and his team for part of the cycle.”

Edward Gorringe, Chief Executive of MindWise, added: “We are excited to be a part of the ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’ project and are encouraged to see a large organisation such as NIFRS make mental health a priority.

“Physical health and mental health are intrinsically linked. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions. We are looking forward to working with both organisations to raise awareness and promote mental and physical health within NIFRS and also the general public.”

A number of other awareness raising events are planned as part of the ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’ initiative, which will see NIFRS staff challenging themselves physically and mentally as they highlight the importance of mental and physical fitness.

Any money raised will be split evenly between MindWise and Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke to help fund their vital services.

Donations for the Station2Station Cycle Challenge can be made through firefighter Noel McKee’s Just Giving page - www.justgiving.com/fundraising/healthybodyhealthymind (click here) - or by texting RED to 70660 to donate £3.