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July 29, 2021

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FIA Fireside Chat: Roy Wilsher on attracting diverse talent and embracing collaboration in fire

We pick out some of the best bits from the Fire Industry Association’s (FIA) recent fireside chat with Roy Wilsher, Previous Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council and current Advisor to the Home Office.

You can read the full fireside chat with the FIA’s Adam Richardson, here.

RoyWilsher-TallBuildings-20Roy was also named number one in IFSEC Global’s Top Influencers in Fire Safety in 2021. Having joined the fire and rescue service in 1981, he served for almost 40 years, with 23 years in the London Fire Brigade up to Assistant Chief or Assistant Commissioner level for fire safety. In 2017, he became the first chair of the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC), and is currently working with the Home Office, advising on a whitepaper.

How did the fire and rescue service respond to COVID-19?

Regarding the work that the fire and rescue service personnel have done to assist with the Covid response, it’s been incredible. The fire service absence rate has been remarkably low and a variety of work has been carried out, whether it’s delivering PPE to hospitals or food to vulnerable people, or driving ambulances. Fire and rescue staff have also administered over 300,000 vaccinations, which on top of everything else is incredible.

What makes you excited about the future of this industry?

If we can truly get to grips with innovation and research. I mean we have tried a few times between Fire Service and Fire Industry in those talks but we’ve never quite put our finger on doing it and there’s all sorts of reasons for that. Some fire service colleagues are very worried about working too closely with the private sector in case they are accused of doing the wrong thing. We’ve got really good entrepreneurs, thinkers and scientists in the UK. If we can bring them all together, I think there’s the opportunity to innovate and for the industry to make people safer.

What does the fire industry need?

Everyone needs talent and if you’re not attracting diverse talent, you can be missing out, so that’s one thing. But I think big data is the future of lots of things. The data gives you the evidence that you need to produce the outcome that’s required. So, I think a really good use of data. Talent and data, is my answer.

What do you want to say to readers?

I think one of the things we all need to work on in the Fire Sector Federation, The Fire Industry Association, The Institute of Fire Engineers, and the NFCC is working collaboratively. There are lots of groups for quite a small sector, so I think it’s about working closer together. We do it a bit but we tend to be a little bit siloed, so I think working together a bit closer is the best thing to do. How would it look if it all came together in five years’ time?  I think the NFCC and the FIA could work together better through some sort of Collaboration Board or Improvement Board, or something that brings a lot of those people together. A much more formal interaction between the different parts of the fire world and a single strong unifying voice that certainly gets things done better than everyone trying to do the same thing.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

When I was first a flexible duty officer, which means not riding in the fire engines anymore, you travel to incidents in a car. I turned up at a really big fire – it was the first time I’d been at a big fire at that level and I was rushing around and putting my uniform on. The assistant chief officer walked past me and just said “An officer never runs, just calm down a little bit, take it all in, because if you jump on the back of the control unit and you’re all het up, what do you think everyone else is going to feel like?  You’re supposed to be in charge, so just calm down and think about it a little bit”.

If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?

I’m a real history buff, I love history and my favourite period history is from about the end of the eighth century 790-1066. That’s the period where the Vikings were invading Britain so if I could time travel, that’s the time I’d go back to. I’m quite fascinated by the 1940’s as well.  We see all the films and things, but I wonder what it was really like.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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