What inspired you to join the fire service?
I joined on 16 June 1997, at 29 years old. I'd been working in financial services and had returned to university as a mature student in my 20s to study biology and geography.
I really wanted a job which had long-term career prospects. I was also interested in public services, and I had some friends that were already firefighters. When Devon Fire and Rescue Service, as it was in 1996, advertised, I applied and I was fortunate to get through first time.
How has the fire service changed over the years?
There has been a lot of change, there's no doubt about that. But there's also been a lot of things which have stayed in a steady state.
Essentially our business model has stayed the same, we’re here to protect the public, we do that through Prevention (Community Safety), Protection (Business Safety) and our response. We do that within the budget that we've got and the resources that we have.
One of the biggest changes to this service was the formation of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service in 2007. It was the first voluntary collaboration between two fire and rescue services. Whilst it came with its challenges, it has certainly been positive and has created a better service to the public across both counties and has allowed a lot of sharing of ideas and ways of working.
The type of firefighting equipment we use has also changed. We have moved away from a standard fire engine on every fire station and introduced new Rapid Intervention Vehicles, Light Rescue Pumps and Medium Rescue Pumps.
The change I'm most proud of is probably pay for availability. We changed the terms and conditions of the on-call contract to something which is far more sustainable and rewarding for on-call firefighters and provides flexibility in terms of the number of hours and commitment that on-call firefighters have to give. I've got nothing but admiration for our on-call firefighters, there is a huge amount of work they do on goodwill to support their communities and keep their appliances ‘on the run’.
There is a different level of commitment when you are on call. You have to be within five minutes of the fire station and available 24/7 and turn up to do whatever is required. I think a lot more should be made of the on-call service. I'm proud of pay for availability being one of the tools with which we can support that moving forward.
What do you love most about the Service?
Without doubt it's the camaraderie and the ability for people that work here to come together. That really comes to the fore during incidents and emergency situations.
You can also see it in the way that we work together during other times as well. Our reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, where everybody understood that there needed to be a change in how we worked and how we're going to deliver the service.
I've played lots of team sport in my life and as you get older, and that becomes less of a focus you need something else in your life that gives you that sense of belonging. And there's no doubt the fire service has given that to me over the years.
Some people refer to the fire service as a family, is that your experience?
Yes, since my recruits pass out parade in September 1997. The chief then addressed us and welcomed us into the Service family - and our family members as well. My wife has never forgotten that.
For me, there is also sense of taking care of each other in that kind of familial way. I think, like families, we sometimes fall out. But at the same time, there is a sense of respect. There is a sense that we're all here for the same purpose.
As a fire service we need to support each other. We'll put our differences to one side and come together and I think that's an important part of who we are. We're quite prepared to take on board criticism and think about how we can change or if we have done things poorly in the past and we'll look to do things differently.
What advice would you give to your colleagues?
In my experience, the Fire and Rescue Service will give you what you put into it. I came into this role as a firefighter, hoping to build a career which would give me a sense of belonging and a long career path. Once I started, I found that there were so many opportunities to do different things, to experience different areas of the Service and take on different qualifications. My advice is to make the most of every opportunity. Look to support your colleagues around you and learn from them. Those are the things which will help you in your career and your position, whatever that might be. We are nothing without the people around us that make up the fire and rescue service.
I've done all sorts of things; I’ve worked at front-line fire stations, as a fire investigator, and fire safety officer. I've led major change in the organisation. But I recognise I am just the custodian of this role and somebody else is going to come in and carry on this work after me, because the world will change, and things need to happen for the fire and rescue service in the future. So never forget that.
The career that you want is the career that you put the effort into.
Any finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to say thank you to the people in this organisation, past and present, because without them I would not have built the career that I have or have had the experiences that I've had. I've had some great times, some really funny times, a lot of humour, and I've also had some tough times when trying to deal with some difficult situations.
Everyone who has been a part of the Service, whether they've been a part of the crews or teams I've been working in or our partner agencies. Those are the people that have made the difference.
There have been individuals along the way that have had an influence on me from when I was a firefighter right through to my final role as Assistant Chief. People that I have used as a role model and who gave me good advice on the way through.
But I think everybody has something to offer. You can take a lot from every individual that you come across in the Service. And my thank you is to everybody that I've worked with.