Fire service experience ‘not essential’ for new chief fire officer

West Sussex Fire and Rescue is recruiting a new chief fire officer
West Sussex Fire and Rescue is recruiting a new chief fire officer

Candidates to be West Sussex’s new chief fire officer do not need to have fire service experience to be considered for the role.

The current head of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Gavin Watts announced his decision last month to retire after 29 years in service.

West Sussex County Council is recruiting for his successor, but its job advert has been criticised for saying that ‘fire service experience would be helpful, it is not essential for this leadership role’.

It explains: “What will be key is a strong focus on outcomes, with the ability to drive performance in a large operational business.”

A spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union said: “The idea that an individual with little to no understanding of the fire and rescue service, with no previous operational experience can undertake the role of chief fire officer, is absurd.

“For West Sussex County Council to suggest fire service experience is simply desirable will be of concern to all operational personnel who could be under the strategic guidance of the CFO at major incidents. The FBU do not support this disregard for operational importance at the most senior level of the fire and rescue service.

“The CFO advises the responsible cabinet member. They are supposed to draw on years of experience and FRS knowledge to highlight risks or concerns with often ill-considered political decisions or financial pressures.

“This advice will not be possible if the individual has no previous FRS knowledge. It could lead to ill-informed, dangerous decisions being taken by individuals with no idea of the implications on public and firefighter safety.

“We will not sit idly by and allow our professional service to be subjected to a private sector hatchet job carried out by an individual more interested in saving pennies than saving lives.”

Jim Deen, Labour’s deputy group leader at Worthing Borough Council, said that while it was sad to see Mr Watts retiring the wording of the advert was ‘extraordinary’.

He explained: “If this was approved by the Tory leadership on the council, it confirms our view that they are totally unsuited to running the council.

“In such a key role, that clearly demands maximum confidence of those serving in the fire service and the public who rely on it, I would argue that such experience is not just ‘helpful’, but is absolutely essential. To suggest otherwise is puzzling - and very worrying.”

Consultants GatenbySanderson have been employed to handle the recruitment process.

A spokesman for the county council said: “In order to recruit the best person for this important, strategic role within the council, it is standard practice to employ a specialist agency to make sure we reach a wide field of potential candidates.

“It’s imperative that we recruit a high-performing leader with relevant skills and experience, and we will consider each candidate on his or her merits.

“We look forward to recruiting a new chief fire officer to continue to deliver a service that’s committed to keeping the residents of West Sussex safe.”

To apply for the position click here.

The advert says: “You will be given the autonomy needed to transform our fire & rescue services to provide the best outcomes for our residents. Working with our emergency services partnerships you will shape and develop opportunities within and across our partnership borders.

“Fire service experience would be helpful, it is not essential for this leadership role. What will be key is a strong focus on outcomes, with the ability to drive performance in a large operational business.”