Following 37 years of dedicated service, our Chief Fire Officer, Chris Davies QFSM, is retiring.
In his final weeks before handing the reins over to our new CFO, Roger Thomas, Chris sat down with the Corporate Communications and Business Development Department to reminisce over a glittering career that has been served with great pride.
‘I joined the Fire and Rescue Service in 1984, midway through my A-Levels would you believe, and much against the advice of everyone around me at the time. I was determined to join but I could never have dreamed, back then, of the career I had ahead of me.
‘This is what is so great about the Fire and Rescue Service; you can join with limited qualifications and experience, and you have the potential to get all the way to Chief Fire Officer! I think we, as Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and as a sector, should be proud of that. I think everybody should be proud of what they do in the Service, as by our nature, every one of us goes over and above to safeguard our communities.
‘We are well respected within our communities. As I say to our recruits when they pass out and to crews during station visits, our behaviours must be of the highest standards, because we are role models and whether we are in work or off duty, we are looked upon with the greatest respect. I am immensely proud of the relationship we have with the public and, looking to the future, I think it’s important that we maintain that level of pride and engagement we have with our communities; for me, it is what sets us apart from others.’
During his tenure as Chief, Chris has awarded a Chief Fire Commendation to a select number of firefighters who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to rescue members of the public. But did you know that he himself was awarded a CFO Commendation?
‘I was awarded the Chief Fire Officer Commendation for Bravery in the late 1980s when I was stationed in Cardiff as a Firefighter. I was part of a two-crew response to a particularly challenging house fire, where we located and rescued a seven-year-old child from the property.
‘That is certainly something that I hold dear to me and a personal highlight, as was becoming Chief Fire Officer. I think it’s probably important at this stage that I come clean that I am third generation fire service. My grandfather and my father were firefighters. Unfortunately, my grandfather wasn’t alive when I was appointed as CFO but my father was, and as you can imagine, he was immensely proud. I would always, on my promotions, wear my father’s rank markings until I got to what was Divisional Officer, which is now Group Manager, because that is the rank he reached before retiring. When I got promoted to Area Manager, I remember going to him and showing him the rank marking and he said to me, “You’re on your own now, son”. I was in my early 40s then and I felt at that point that I had made it.
Another notable highlight was attending Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Service. That was a big occasion and it’s quite something once you are there.
There have also been some challenging events during my career. One of them would be a period during my time as CFO when I was scrutinized by HMRC and Audit Wales, which was extremely stressful and challenging.
Sadly though, there is one event that stands above others during my term as Chief Fire Officer. On Tuesday, 17 September 2019, we lost Firefighter Josh Gardener. His passing is a huge loss to his family and the town of Milford Haven and coming to terms with his death has been difficult for many of us in the Service. Josh’s death really struck me and emotionally I found this very, very difficult.’
As Chief Fire Officer, Chris has overseen a change and development of culture within Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and enhanced its reputation within the UK as a leader in trialling and embracing new technologies to improve a firefighter’s safety and operational capability.
‘I would like to be remembered for creating a culture of openness and for people to not be afraid to question a decision. We may not always like the answer, but we should all feel empowered to ask the challenging questions. I do like to be challenged, I like the debate and I like that sort of constructive criticism, because that’s the way we all learn.
I’d also like to think that I’ve moved Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service to the forefront of the UK Fire and Rescue Services. My hope is that now, people are aware of what we do. From using technology to trial and implement innovative practices, to being the first Fire and Rescue Service in the world to achieve the Platinum Investors in People Award.
‘By now, I think that when people want to introduce change into their organisations, we are one of the first places that other services look to, because they can see what we have done and what we have achieved. Whilst I’m the first to say that we haven’t got everything right, I’m a firm believer that if we try things, then we are moving forward all the time. We must accept in the fact that some things will fail, but we learn from them.’
What are Chris’ hopes for the Service after he has left?
‘I hope the Service continually develops and I’m sure it will under Roger and Iwan’s leadership. It’s quite right that a new Chief and Deputy will have new ideas and places where they will want to take the Service, and I’m looking forward to reading and hearing in the news about the positive work that Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service does with its training, equipment and staff.
I have to accept that things will be different, but that’s all right because change is good and good organisations need new faces and new blood to come in to continue to develop things.’
Did you know that, from early on in his career, Chris was known for being a leg-puller!
‘Back in 1984, I was a 19-year-old firefighter who was fresh out of school and thought I knew everything.
‘My crew and I were at a road traffic collision in the centre of Cardiff, with cars strewn across the road and people lying on the road. So, as a newbie, I was tasked with giving first aid to a casualty on the floor. I started doing the usual checks and pinched the individual’s leg just to check they didn’t have any spinal injuries.
‘When I asked the casualty if they could feel me pinching, they replied “no”. At this point, I’m thinking that this is serious, and the casualty has got a bad back injury. I nodded to a couple of my colleagues and they came over quickly. I whispered to them that this person has suffered a really bad back injury as they couldn’t feel anything. Checking again, I grabbed the casualty’s leg and really gave it a twist, but still no reaction from the individual. By now there were six firefighters around the casualty and so we call the Ambulance staff over. As we carefully put him onto the stretcher, I was holding the individual’s ankles, then, suddenly, I felt his leg come off in my hand!
‘As the casualty was being moved, I was looking at my colleagues, who were also carrying him, and they were going “What’s the matter? What’s going on?” and all I could say was “Uh, nothing, nothing” trying my best not to alarm the casualty, but I was signalling to the firefighters with my eyes for them to look at his legs, one leg was longer than the other. It had come off!
‘Once we got him in the Ambulance, I was trying to process that a man’s leg had come off in my hand. A few minutes went by and to my relief, the Ambulance staff come over to me and they said, “Oh, just to let you know, the casualty had a wooden leg.” I’ve never lived that one down.’
So, what is next for Chris?
‘In the short term, I’m going on holiday and I’ll use that time to recharge my batteries. What I’m saying to people is that I am retiring from the Fire Service, but I’m not ready to grow a ponytail and a long beard just yet, I’ll do something new, but I don’t know what at this moment in time.
‘I can honestly say that I have loved every minute of my career. It has been an honour to serve as Chief Fire Officer for eight of those years and, although I have made friends and connections here that will stay with me for the rest of my life, I will dearly miss the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service family.
‘Thank you to every member of staff for your dedication and hard work during my tenure as Chief Fire Officer. I wish you all the best for the future.
‘Diolch yn fawr a hwyl fawr.’