Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller, Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, passed away in June weeks before he was due to retire. FIRE reflects on the career of a larger-than-life fire sector legend.
Paul Maurice Fuller joined the Fire Service in 1978 and became Chief Fire Officer at Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service in 2002. He served on a number of national bodies and was President of the Chief Fire Officers Association, Chair of CFOA Services Limited, Chair of the Fire Sector Federation, a committee member of the Fire Service Parliamentary Scheme and was a UK representative to the annual United States Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Conference. He was the serving Chair of Trustees for the national charity, the Children’s Burns Trust, Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Fire Fighters Charity, and Chair of Fire Sport UK.
Paul spent a lot of his free time undertaking fundraising activities for the Children’s Burns Trust and The Fire Fighters Charity, which included open water swimming and climbing Kilimanjaro in 2019.
Paul was made a Freeman of the City of London in 2012, awarded the Queens Fire Service Medal for exemplary service in 2008 and made Commander of the British Empire by her Majesty in the 2016 New Year’s Honours. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Bedfordshire in 2017 and made Member of St John in 2018.
Stellar Fire Service Career
Paul joined West Midlands Fire Service in 1978, and quickly moved through the ranks to become an Advanced Training Instructor before joining West Sussex Fire Brigade as Fire Station Commander in 1987. The move was in part precipitated by his father, Brian Fuller, becoming chief of West Midlands and advising his son to move on if he wished to secure promotion. Paul would follow a varied career path before emerging from his father’s shadow and becoming known as a redoubtable chief officer in his own right. From 1990-1994 Paul served with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service before being appointed Assistant Chief Fire Officer of Wiltshire Fire Brigade until 2002.
He was the youngest Chief Fire Officer in the country at the time of his appointment to Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service in 2002, taking over at a time of highly volatile industrial relations with a number of pending trade disputes. In addition, the service faced considerable financial challenges. Working with the fire authority and representative bodies, Paul stabilised industrial relations, developed an effective strategic community safety plan and delivered long-term financial stability and efficiency.
It was this sure-handed leadership that led to him being seconded to Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service for nine months in 2009 as Chief Fire Officer following the Atherstone-on-Stour tragedy. Paul ensured that an improvement plan was put in place with public consultations underway, new live fire behaviour and compartment fire training in place, and new hardware and software for incident risk information being installed on frontline appliances.
From here Paul took on a number of national roles including becoming President of the Chief Fire Officers Association during the worst flooding in recent memory across the home counties and South West, which led to considerable involvement in often difficult discussions with ministers, civil servants, national employers and representative bodies. This did not deter Paul from starting the campaign to raise awareness of the dangers presented by the flammability of children’s dressing up clothes, which received extensive national media coverage. Paul also joined an ad hoc British Standards Committee trying to improve the performance of fabrics. Ongoing work also included working with stakeholders to postpone proposed changes to the furniture fire safety regulations until the efficacy of the changes are properly proven. As Vice President of the Federation of British Fire Organisations, Paul was pivotal in co-founding the Fire Sector Federation, latterly becoming Deputy Chair and Chair.
Up for a challenge and always in the best humour:
Paul undertook numerous fundraising activities, such as climbing Kilimanjaro in 2019 for the Children’s Burns Trust and The Fire Fighters Charity –
he was chair of both charities when he passed away
Closer to home, Paul utilised his national and international contacts and expertise to improve his own service. Gaining insight into the different shift systems through his professional network in the US Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, the service introduced a 24-hour shift system on wholetime stations leading to an increase in training and availability of appliances and supplemented other measures including realignment of posts at middle and senior manager level.
Chief Fire Officer Andy Hopkinson said: “We are still coming to terms with the loss of our beloved chief, an incredibly well-respected man. There are undoubtedly people walking the streets of Bedfordshire today thanks to Paul’s dedication and devotion to the fire and rescue service.
“This will be an incredibly difficult time for Paul’s family, friends and colleagues, past and present, and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with them all.”
Paul leaves behind wife Helen and daughter Jess, son Ben and daughter Amy from his first marriage, three grandchildren, brothers Simon and Adam and parents Linda and Brian.
Honours and Awards:
1998 Fire Service long Service and Good Conduct Medal
2002 Queens Golden Jubilee Medal
2008 Queens Fire Service Medal
2012 Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal
2013 Freedom of the City of London
2016 Commander of the British Empire
2017 Deputy Lieutenant of Bedfordshire
2018 Member Order of St John
“No-one else ever filled a room with such life‑affirming presence, generosity of spirit and sheer good natured joy”
A Personal Reflection
Editor Andrew Lynch reflects on the loss of a close friend and colleague
Prior to his retirement, Paul had spoken with a number of close contacts about his desire to remain in the sector, fuelled by a life-long desire to keep giving back and continuing to live a life of public service. He was therefore exploring a number of roles to keep him involved with fire. Above all, Paul wanted to continue to be part of the sector which he had given so much to for most of his adult life. Whilst undoubtedly tragic that he should die weeks before retirement from the Fire and Rescue Service, it is also fitting that he should die in service, for that was what the man was all about.
For those that knew him well, Paul was a force of nature, a larger-than-life character who would fill a room with a remarkable energy, a true zest for life and unshakeable good humour. Ever playful, with a constant glint in his eye, Paul was also kind and considerate, his default position being always to put others first. This could mask an incisive intelligence and a resolute style of leadership that reassured colleagues and collaborators.
As a close friend and colleague for many years I had the opportunity to learn from his exuberant approach to life and leadership and benefitted greatly from his advice and mentoring across many different forums, including the Fire Sector Federation, The Fire Fighters Charity and our EFE awards at which he was a regular host and judge. I will always be indebted for his support as a trustee during my tenure as Chair of The Fire Fighters Charity, proving a loyal and steadfast confidante during some difficult times for the charity. Personally and professionally, Paul has been an absolute rock; unfailingly loyal, supportive and kind; nothing was ever too much, no request too large and no end he wouldn’t go to in service of friendship.
That said, it is impossible to capture the man in these few short sentences. However, we are fortunate that he has left an uplifting legacy; a style of leadership that we would do well to reflect upon and above all a kind, generous and loving approach to life that is truly inspirational.
So what a presence, what a leader, what a life, what a man. I’m at a loss, my friend, for no-one else ever filled a room with such a life-affirming presence, generosity of spirit and sheer good-natured joy. Your loss is immeasurable but there is some solace in benefitting from having known your kindness, unwavering support and inspirational encouragement. I will miss your guiding wisdom, constant wise cracks, wicked sense of humour and our fun-filled time together.
With deepest gratitude, respect and love.