Catherine Palmer had just got back home in Pendlebury from a weekend away when she saw an envelope from the Cabinet Office...
"I thought 'What's all this?'" she recalls "I opened it thinking 'Is this real or is this a scam?' because you don't know..."
It was very real. Catherine had been awarded the British Empire Medal in this year's Queen's birthday honours 'For charitable services to The Fire Fighters' Charity in the North West'... "It was a big shock" she says.
It was also very well deserved. Everyone knows how well respected firefighters are, and Catherine has been working for decades raising money for the special charity which looks after their wellbeing...
The Fire Fighters Charity itself sums up its aims perfectly... 'Whether injured, ill or in need of psychological support to come to terms with the life and death situations they face on a daily basis, we exist to support the everyday heroes of the UK fire community.'
Catherine worked in the control room of Greater Manchester Fire Service taking 999 calls from 1973 to 1998, before switching to, what was then the Equality and Welfare Department, where she first became involved with the Fire Fighters Charity, previously known as the Fire Service Benevolent Fund...
"We kept in touch with widows, people with disabled children or those who were disabled themselves, and offered them advice or convalescence" Catherine explains "We used to go out and visit people."
Despite the almost constant bureaucratic changes, Catherine remained working in welfare, also running two lotteries, internal sporting events, the annual carol service and awards ceremonies for firefighters... "It was a really, really nice job" she says.
In 2011, the cuts began and she took redundancy but continued working for the Fire Fighters Charity as a volunteer... "I carried on doing it because I loved it" she insists "I do it in my own time and mainly do fire station open days. I think we did 22 last year!"
At the open days, she sets up stalls selling firefighter toys and books, holding tombolas and games... "It's been fun, you just don't know what you are going to sell" she says "And whatever money we make, we donate to the Charity and we also buy stuff from charity. We've raised quite a lot."
The Queen's birthday honours citation is glowing in its praise for Catherine... "For more than three decades she has been the lynchpin of fundraising efforts for the Fire Fighters Charity in Greater Manchester and the North West" it states "As a volunteer she has raised thousands of pounds each year including £2,500 at a recent 999 Day event..."
Now Catherine, who is also married to a now retired firefighter, is to receive her British Empire Medal from the Lord Lieutenant and will also be attending the Queen's Garden Party.
In the meantime, over the summer, there's a few fire station open days to attend with her stalls...
"...There's one at Agecroft, Bolton, Cheadle, Irlam, Eccles...two at Gorton...oh and a big one in the Trafford Centre in August..." Catherine Palmer B.E.M ponders.
To find out more details about the Fire Fighters Charity – click here