By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
Nottinghamshire’s incoming Chief Fire Officer said he is “absolutely committed” to diversifying the fire service as he prepares to lead the organisation.
Craig Parkin, who is the current Deputy Chief Fire Officer, will take up the role after his “colleague, friend and mentor” John Buckley’s retirement in April.
Mr Parkin, who has been with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue for 26 years, spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about starting the new role in what will be a “big year” for the fire service.
He detailed the challenges ahead – including the move to the new service headquarters, encouraging more female and Black, Asian and minority ethnic firefighters and the impact rising inflation will have on budgets.
Mr Parkin, who joined the service as a firefighter after serving in the British Army’s Royal Engineers, said: “If people look at me, I am a stereotype fire service employee; a middle-aged white male.
“It has certainly been a passion of mine for a long time about making sure the public sees a service they see in themselves.
“We’ve got a long way to go and this could be a 20 or 30-year journey but I hope we start to become more reflective of communities.
“We want a culture where people feel they can speak up more. I am sure we have got people in the workforce who may be homophobic or racist – because they are from society.
“They need to know it’s not welcome here. We are seeing colleagues calling them out and five or 10 years ago you wouldn’t have got that.”
He added there are currently no female middle managers in uniform – and he said he will work to attract more women to join the fire service.
He added: “Progress has been good, we feel like we have made a step change in that area.
“But I do still feel that if you are a woman in uniform, you have to work 20, 30, 50 per cent harder than your equivalent man to prove yourself.
“As the deputy and the future Chief Fire Officer, we will not be changing course [to change that].
“We are absolutely committed to the diversity of this workforce.”
Mr Parkin added that another challenge will be the move from the current headquarters at Bestwood Lodge Drive to the new state-of-the-art Sherwood Lodge hub this year.
Mr Parkin said: “I think some people are underestimating the impact that will have on how we work.
“There’s a real challenge to ensure those support teams can bed into that location well because they do a phenomenal job supporting the people out on the stations.”
He added rising inflation could impact the fire service’s budgets.
He said: “The impact on us is quite a few hundred thousand pounds that we don’t have the budget for potentially.
“A key focus for me is how do I maintain an excellent public service with a reducing financial envelope if that is the scenario?”
He added that he doesn’t “underestimate the size of the job” in hand – and is “still in a bit of shock and humbled by it all”.
He said: “If somebody had said to me leaving school that I would be a chief fire officer one day, I would’ve said ‘don’t be stupid’.
“I am looking forward to it and know it’s going to be tough at times.
“People want to know that when they ring 999, the fire service is going to be there – and it will be.”
Mr Parkin also plans to continue to work with the Firefighters Charity, which offers physical and mental wellbeing support to staff and ex-staff.