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London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner retires from service

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London Fire Brigade’s Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills took part in his final roll call at Stratford Fire Station on 3 October after 30 years’ service.

During his service, Mills played a key role in many changes to the Brigade’s operational policies and equipment, from overhauling the response to high rise firefighting, the introduction of the Fire Survival Guidance App and securing the Marauding Terrorist Agreement with the Fire Brigades Union.

The changes have enabled the Brigade to better serve the communities of London and adapt to the changing built environment. In recent times, Mills led the Brigade’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic through two exceptionally challenging years that required tough decisions to keep our service running for the people of London.

Over his career he has been involved in many significant incidents including the London riots, where he was the Borough Commander for Haringey, a large fire at the Mandarin Oriental hotel and the Grenfell Tower fire.

Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills said: “Over the years the role of a firefighter has evolved, it has been shaped by moments in history which have led to change.

“Historic moments such as the fire at Kings Cross Station, the 9/11 terror attacks, the 7/7 bombings and the Grenfell Tower fire have changed our direction of travel. We have learned and changed from these historic moments, and from every incident we attend.

“We have recognised the need to adapt, and I have seen many changes throughout my career in the ways we fight fires. There have been so many developments to our response over the years and the equipment we use that has enabled us to acclimatise to the changing environment and I am proud to have played a role in that transformation.”

Reflecting on his time in the service, Mills said: “One of the most important changes I have seen over the years is the improvement in the support firefighters now have access to. I have seen a wide variety of incidents during my 30 years. I have seen very harrowing sights that will stay with me – being a firefighter is not only physically challenging but mentally challenging too.

“When I first joined there wasn’t anywhere to go to talk about what you’d seen or how you were feeling, the views on mental health were very different to what they are now. Now mental health is something that is discussed more openly. The Brigade has a counselling service, which is accessible to all staff, after a challenging incident the crews can talk freely about it and we check on them.

“We aren’t machines, under the uniform we are human and can be affected by what we see – I think that can sometimes get forgotten. We are now in a position where we can openly discuss how we are feeling, which is a such a positive step forward.”

He added: “I am incredibly grateful for what the Brigade has given me – a career, development, life skills and opportunities I wouldn’t have had in any other job. I am proud of the changes and transformation I have seen. I am confident that the people and teams that I leave behind at the Brigade will continue to drive forward the change that is needed to ensure our communities get the services they need.

“I am honoured to have served at the Brigade and proud of everyone I have worked with. Regardless of anything, when there is a moment of adversity everyone always steps up. Everyone is willing to go the extra mile to serve the people of London.

“One thing you realise with firefighting is no matter whether you attend the richest or poorest address, no matter the value of the property it is a traumatic experience that effects everyone the same way. I remember an incident where a man had started a fire to heat a can of beans, which was all he had, after we dealt with the fire the crews took it upon themselves to go away and buy him some food. Sometimes being a firefighter is about doing the right thing not what’s in the job description.”

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