The head of West Midlands Fire Service has praised crews on the eve of his retirement – but warned about increasing numbers of managers in the organisation.
Vij Randeniya was named Chief Fire Officer in March 2009, becoming the first Asian to take charge of a UK emergency service.
Firefighters in the West Midlands are set to go on strike today over plans to increase the retirement age to 60. Mr Randeniya leaves on Friday at the aged of 53 and said he had sympathy for both sides.
“The current disputes between the Government and the Fire Brigade Union need to be resolved in spite of both sides muddying the water passing the buck over to us locally. The public and the firefighters deserve better than that,’’ he said.
‘‘There are people who can work until the age of 60. It needs to be properly managed.”
Mr Randeniya has been in charge of the biggest fire service in England, outside London.
In June a sky lantern landed on a Smethwick recycling plant, sparking the largest blaze firecrews had ever seen.
The heroic work of his teams that night was named as his proudest moment with the service.
He said: “Smethwick was a huge success. It was an example of this organisation operating at full power.
“The way we dealt with it, the amount of businesses we were able to save and the tough conditions for firefighters.
“The social media success trended more than Justin Bieber. We were picture of the day in the Wall Street Journal.’’
Yet he said Winston Churchill would fail to get through the service’s modern-day assessment centres because leadership skills were not value enough.
“We will not be managed out of austerity – we will be led out of it,” he said. “We seem to have promoted more managers than leaders. We want much more rounded individuals. I don’t think we have valued leadership as much as management.
‘‘Being chief is both a penance – you don’t have much of a life, it’s quite lonely – balanced with the privilege of leading a great organisation.’’