Cheshire chief fire officer Paul Hancock is retiring after 34 years with the UK fire service.
He has been top boss at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) since October 2009 having previously held the post of deputy.
Mr Hancock joined Cheshire in 2007 following a 22-year career in his home county with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, rising to the post of assistant chief fire officer.
He acted as joint chief fire officer for both counties for 12 months in 2016-17 when he went back to manage ‘a few little issues’ for his former employers but received no extra salary for the two days per week he spent up there.
The chief fire officer, a former president of the Chief Fire Officers Association, has managed Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service during a time of government cuts.
This involved the controversial and delicate balancing act of slashing the number of full time firefighters in line with what he claimed was a decreasing number of incidents while insisting the public would not be exposed to unjustifiable risk.
During his tenure, the service has built four new fire stations, a safety and life skills centre at Lymm and has changed crewing arrangements and duty systems on a number of fire stations.
Many back-office staff have transferred over to Cheshire Police in a cost-saving merger and are now based at police HQ in Winsford . A new £9m training centre will be built at the old fire service HQ in Sadler Road, Winsford.
Mr Hancock was also project director of the contentious regional fire control room at Warrington when it was resurrected following a failed a national programme which wasted £482m. It finally went live in 2014.
Cheshire Fire Brigades Union has had an uneasy relationship with Mr Hancock at times.
Last year Andy Fox-Hewitt, secretary of Cheshire FBU, was ‘shocked and appalled’ to learn of pay increases and bonuses awarded to Mr Hancock and his deputy Mark Cashin, for the seventh year in a row during a period when his members had faced pay restraint.
Mr Fox-Hewitt told The Chronicle: “When Paul came in I think the workforce was happy to see a change. He established a new culture and ‘Team Cheshire’ and staff said we were going in a very positive direction. Unfortunately, our members don’t feel that’s been sustained at all.”
The FBU representative had sympathy with management having to maintain a service at a time of huge government cuts but is unhappy at the reduction in full time firefighters and fire engines, an increase in attendance times and the number of fire deaths.
His alternative would have been to use the brigade’s multi-million pound reserves to ‘mitigate’ the situation ‘until the financial picture improved’.
On a positive note, Mr Fox-Hewitt said Cheshire now had the best maternity policy across the UK fire service thanks to a ‘collective effort’ between management and the union.
Fire authority chairman Cllr Bob Rudd confirmed Mr Hancock would leave once his replacement had been appointed. He said the service needed to deliver a new five year plan. The fire chief didn’t want to start something and then leave before it was completed.
Offering a contrasting perspective to that of the union, Cllr Rudd said: “He’s made considerable changes at a difficult time financially and he’s managed to maintain the number of fire engines – pumps as they are called – across the county and increased the number of fire stations and increased the number of home safety visits and prevention work, including the opening of the new safety centre at Lymm adjacent to the new fire station which has the capability of dealing with road traffic accidents on the motorway.”
Cllr Rudd added: “There is risk and there is demand – and it’s getting the balance right between the two.”
Talking about the service led by Mr Hancock, he commented: “It’s the best fire service in the country and we will say that to anyone who will listen. It’s not just the firefighters but everybody who works for the organisation in whatever capacity.”
Mr Hancock is very keen on sport and has represented England and Great Britain in fire service rugby union teams. He is married with two daughters.
An official statement from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is awaited.