Having handed over the reins at the end of March to a new Chief Inspector, I have taken time to reflect on my four and a half years at the HM Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland (HMFSI).
From when I first joined the Inspectorate as Assistant Inspector in September 2016, it was with a very warm Scottish welcome from the team, with smiles and friendly faces and always a helping hand or two to get me settled into my new role. The office was based in the amazing historical building of St Andrew’s House, situated in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, although it would be true to say that a large proportion of the time was travelling within Scotland undertaking inspections. Whilst a quite different role from my previous position of Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive of Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, it was great to be back in the Fire Sector, albeit from a ‘different side of the fence’.
As Assistant Inspector, along with the then Chief Inspector and the Inspectorate Team, we had a busy schedule of inspections and thematic reviews. The merger of eight Services into one in 2013, under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, placed the Inspectorate in an important role to scrutinise, inspect and report on the new Scottish Fire & Rescue Service with the purpose of assuring the public, and Scottish Ministers, that it was working in an efficient and effective way, and to promote continuous improvement in the Service. In essence, HMFSI acts as the Service’s ‘Critical Friend’. It was a really interesting change from the day-to-day running of a Fire & Rescue Service, and a whole new challenge for me working within the Inspectorate, which I enjoyed immediately from the beginning.
In June 2018, it was a great privilege to be appointed HM Chief Inspector and hold the Royal Warrant and head up the Inspectorate for Scotland. Although now HM Chief Inspector, I was still very much hands on and part of the team.
Looking back at the past four and a half years, I can only reflect on the extremely varied and interesting, albeit on occasions challenging, activities I have undertaken.
I think back now of the places we visited and the inspections we carried out from within the historical cities of Scotland to the remote Islands and Highlands. I alongside the Inspectorate team certainly covered some miles and experienced the varied weather that Scotland has to offer.
We took planes, trains, boats, ferries, cars and at one point even a Transit van to take the team and myself to wherever our inspection or thematic review was to be undertaken. I say a ‘Transit van’, and this was not by choice but due to a breakdown in a remote area, and the only available hire vehicle for us to carry on was the Transit – certainly, some interesting faces at that Fire Station when they came out to welcome us.
Away from the work requirements, I think back to how fortunate I have been, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had during my time in Scotland. One such opportunity was an invite to attend the Queen’s Garden Party, along with my wife Lesley. We were blessed to have glorious sunshine and it was certainly a privilege to be there on the day when the Queen and three of her children were with her.
I have had the privilege to be invited to the Brave Heart Awards hosted by the First Minister in the surroundings of Edinburgh Castle, and what an evening, celebrating the recognition of acts of courage and heroism. It was a very humbling experience, when you listened to the true-life stories of courage and calmness of those who have shown extraordinary bravery.
I have been honoured to lay wreaths and attend memorials, which are always such a proud and privileged duty to undertake.
Another really fond memory is when I went over to Monaghan as the guest of Chief Fire Officer Dermot Brannigan and spoke at the Irish Chief Fire Officers Conference. I was joined by Sir Ken Knight, Roy Wilsher and Dany Cotton as speakers. It was a wonderful couple of days, and very warm hospitality from the Irish Chiefs for the Gala Dinner at the spectacular Castle Leslie Estate.
I also think warmly about Northern Ireland and the work I undertook over there for the Department of Health and the Fire & Rescue Service Board. These visits were again always very welcoming and I have very fond memories of the people that I was fortunate to meet.
The time spent working with the NFCC was both enjoyable and valuable, and the regular monthly meetings with the then Chair Roy Wilsher, and Dan Stephens as Chief Fire Advisor for Wales, were of real benefit to share and capture the thinking and actions within the four UK FRS areas.
I had a good working relationship with Sir Tom Winsor and his Team at HMICFRS, the UK Home Office with National Resilience, and it was valuable to be able to interface with the Fire Industry through the FIA, Chair Derek Gotts and CEO Ian Moore.
I was incredibly proud and humbled to be awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2020, given for Services to the Fire & Rescue Service. This honour is for everyone who has shared my Inspectorate journey with me. I have been so fortunate to have worked with such a talented group of people.
Unfortunately, my last year at the Inspectorate was like so many other organisations and departments, and we had to completely change our working environment and how we performed our duties as a team due to the Covid pandemic. I am immensely proud of how all my staff adapted to this new way of working very quickly, and I have to say, it was a credit to the whole of Scotland how CFO Blunden and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service responded in the fight against Covid and worked incredibly hard to keep the public safe.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been part of my HMFSI journey, especially my team: Dorothy, Brian, Graeme, Martin, Rick, Richard, Steve, Lynn and not forgetting Razor the guide dog, Jim as a Subject Matter Specialist, Secondees who have assisted within the Inspectorate and Ash Denham MSP, together with various Departments of Scottish Government, other HMI’s, and last but certainly not least Chief Fire Officer Martin Blunden and his team. I certainly met and worked with some great people whilst working in the Inspectorate, who I know will remain lifelong friends.
This has been one of the most fantastic experiences of my career, one where I have been privileged to visit so many wonderful and beautiful parts of Scotland. Through my work, I have been fortunate to go to places that I always wanted to visit.
Thank you, Scotland, for the welcome and hospitality you bestowed on me, I leave with very fond memories. It is now goodbye and a return to Wiltshire to see what the next chapter may bring. From April, a new page is waiting to be written and my pen is already poised.
For more information, go to www.gov.scot/groups/hm-fire-service-inspectorate-scotland