A POPULAR Greenock firefighter who has spent half his life protecting the public is retiring.

Commander Sandy MacLean, who is responsible the for Greenock and Port Glasgow stations, is stepping down next month.

Sandy says he has mixed feelings about retiring after 30 years, but says the time is right.

Sandy, 60, from Branchton, said: "I have spent the majority of those 30 years in the service in Inverclyde.

"I have made friends for life with the people I have met and worked with.

"Making the decision was really difficult but I have grandchildren that I love dearly and I want to spend more time with them.

"I know it is the right decision, the right time to go.

"Your health is everything and I've still got my health and for that I am thankful."

Sandy has risen through the ranks, starting his career at Port Glasgow, then Paisley, Greenock, Johnstone, an enforcement post in Dunoon and a spell in Helensburgh before coming back to Greenock.

He said: "I have enjoyed every minute, although there has been sadness sprinkled throughout I wouldn't change any of it."

One day etched on his memory was the shift taking place as terror attacks unfolded in America 20 years ago.

He said: "I was on a day shift at 9/11, we all sat in the station and watched it on TV, you could have heard a pin drop.

"We were acutely aware - we knew everyone wouldn't get out.

"It struck a chord that these firefighters were just doing their job and it still haunts us that 334 of our own had died."

Sandy says that the fire service is very much like a family.

He said: "If anyone is touched by illness or sadness, everyone pulls together.

"We have social gatherings, go for walks and are out with buckets, fundraising for charity.

"It is being like part of a family."

Away from his profession, Sandy is a former Largs Thistle manager and he famously led the club to the Scottish Junior Cup final back in 2010.

He is now gearing up to spend more time with his family.

He is married to Fiona and has two sons Mark and Shaun, from his first marriage plus five grandchildren - Alfie, Leo, Lucy, Jack and Maria.

Sandy is a member of Greenock Golf Club and his retirement bash was held there as he treated his colleagues to a slap-up meal.

He plans on being able to spend a bit of his new free time out on the course.

He said: "I'll definitely be spending more time golfing."