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One Year Since Leaving the Fire Service: Lessons and Liberations



 

A Significant Turning Point

A year ago today, I reached a significant turning point in my life – it was time to hang up my helmet after 20 years of dedicated service in the UK Fire and Rescue Service (UKFRS). The decision to step away wasn't made on a whim, Despite concerns from peers about pensions, promotions, and premature departures, leaving the Fire Service had been years in the making. I had reached a natural endpoint in my firefighting career and was eager to embark on a new journey where I could expand the leadership skills I had cultivated and share them beyond the confines of the UKFRS.


A Year of Growth and Discovery

Reflecting on this past year, the fear that initially clouded my decision and judgement has completely dissipated. What I've discovered is a world brimming with opportunities, accessible not only to those with traditional academic backgrounds but also to anyone armed with courage and the willingness to seek them out. This realisation came as both a relief and a revelation - stepping off a well-worn path after two decades was not just a risk but a necessary evolution.

Since leaving, I’ve had the fortune to engage in some remarkable experiences. I’ve made new friends and acquaintances across diverse fields, enriching my perspective and network. On International Men's Day, I had the opportunity to speak about integrating psychological safety into our everyday lives, a crucial aspect of modern leadership. Similarly, attending an event on International Women's Day allowed me to explore turning difficult conversations into opportunities for building trust and empathy.

Meeting many wonderful new clients has also been a highlight. Watching them grow in confidence with their leadership and communication skills has been incredibly rewarding. Each new connection and discussion has been a step forward in my own journey of continuous learning and helping to make a difference.


Embracing Change

One of the most surprising insights from this past year has been my emotional detachment from the UKFRS. Contrary to what I expected, I do not miss it. While the camaraderie and the bonds formed were the highlights of my service, they do not tether me to my past. I maintain many lifelong friendships with former colleagues, proving that relationships can travel beyond the boundaries of employment. However, it's important to acknowledge that not all former colleagues have supported the path I have taken. In my quest for equality, fairness, and accountability, I have spoken publicly about some issues that still challenge my former employers. This hasn't always been well-received, especially when it casts an uncomfortable light on them. However, I accept that not everyone will see things the same way I do or agree with how I have addressed them - and that's okay. We are all entitled to our views and opinions, and I respect those who have the courage to speak openly and honestly. As Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga write in their book, The Courage to Be Disliked, "Do not live to satisfy the expectations of others." Being authentic and doing the right thing (by my beliefs) will inevitably upset some people, but it also paves the path for true personal growth and integrity.


Communication and Growth Beyond Service

Leaving the service has also opened my eyes to the challenges in maintaining communication outside the immediate network of the UKFRS. It highlighted a broader issue: many organisations, including the fire service, often miss opportunities to enhance cultural diversity and inclusivity by looking beyond their immediate surroundings. From my new vantage point, I see missed opportunities for collaboration and innovation – much like offering a neighbour a shovel and a wheelbarrow to move a mountain of pebbles only for them to refuse help and insist on carrying them one by one because they are reluctant to look beyond their own garden for help and guidance.

Furthermore, I've observed how certain environments, despite their growth opportunities, can also stifle personal development. The hierarchical “command and control” nature of traditional fire services can sometimes obscure our personal values and authenticity, favouring policy and procedural conformity over individuality.


No Regrets, Only Forward

Do I regret leaving? Absolutely not. If anything, I wonder if I should have embarked on this journey sooner. The freedom to explore, to grow, and to share my experiences in new contexts has been invigorating. For those contemplating a career change, I’d start with asking yourself why? Why should you leave? Why should you stay? What are you looking to achieve? Can you meet your personal goals in a new area of the same organisation? Is this organisation aligned with your values? Do you feel valued? Do you have more to offer? Ask a diverse group of people for advice, not just those within the organisation that you reside in. However, do not discount your own gut instinct, your own thoughts and feelings are the most important ones.

If you do decide to move onto pastures new though – remember, stepping out of your comfort zone can open doors to worlds you might never have discovered otherwise. Look beyond the familiar, and you might find that your unique skills and experiences are exactly what other industries need. While I have specifically used my experiences in the Fire service in this blog, I believe this is true of any job you find yourself in. “get comfortable being uncomfortable” That’s where growth lies.


In Closing

This year has been one of introspection, adventure, and growth. It has reaffirmed my belief in the importance of pursuing change and the endless possibilities that come with saying "yes" to new opportunities. Here's to more years of learning, growing, and leading - beyond the Fire Service and into whatever challenges lie ahead.

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