Kent Fire and Rescue Service has appointed former HR Director, Ann Millington, as Chief Fire Officer, who will be Kent's first female Chief Fire Officer. Ann's career - and path to her job today - started after graduating with a Philosophy and Psychology degree, when she took a job working at a psychiatric hospital in North Wales.
Ann said: "I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but got an early lesson on how life is unpredictable and affected by luck - good and bad - when they closed the hospital. So I bit the bullet and went to London in search of work.
"I spent two years doing a variety of jobs, including waitressing and cleaning to support myself as I took an unpaid post working with vulnerable ex-patients leaving the big psychiatric hospitals which were closing at that time.
"When that work ended, I took a temporary job in the Home Office's HR department, which turned into a permanent one.
"After completing my degree I always knew my natural orientation would be towards a people-based profession, but the experience at the Home Office really cemented my career path."
"Most of my career prior to KFRS was spent in Organisational Development, involving a lot of training, coaching and counselling, developing systems and managing change projects. I worked for Bexley twice - for seven years the first time, and they asked me back for another five years. My last project there was involved in setting up the Children's Trust.
"My heart has always been with the public sector and I'm proud to have contributed to developing services to the public while dealing with very difficult issues."
Ann joined Kent Fire and Rescue and Service in 2007 and is among a growing number of senior managers who have not come through the traditional fire and rescue service ranks.
She said: "There were two clear things which impressed me most from the start. The professionalism of the colleagues I was meeting, and the great heart of the place. It's hard to put this into words, but having worked in different organisations I get the feel of places quickly, and you could just feel the sense of purpose and heart at KFRS."
The organisation's former Human Resources Director and then Deputy Chief Executive is the first woman to take the helm at KFRS. Ann will now be managing more than 2,000 staff and delivering a Fire and Rescue Service - that includes emergency response and a programme of prevention work - to over 1.7 million people.
She also takes charge at a time of huge change for the Fire and Rescue Service. In response to emerging risks and increasingly diverse communities, KFRS is undergoing a programme of change to the service it provides. This will see it moving towards a 'cluster working' arrangement where people, equipment and appliances are grouped together in areas rather than at fire stations to encourage more flexible and creative ways of meeting local risk.
To ensure that KFRS has the management and operational capacity to steer the service through some of the most important challenges it has seen in a generation, a decision was also taken to reshape its top management team. The changes, including the deletion of a number of posts, such as Deputy Chief Executive, Assistant Director of Policy and HR Director have contributed £300,000 savings. This includes a personal decision by Ann to take a reduction in salary when she took over as Chief Executive.
Ann will also oversee the introduction of part time contracts for retained firefighters, a move that will grant them the same rights as full time operational staff and also represents another major step towards delivering a service that best mirrors local needs.
High on Ann's agenda as CFO, is her ongoing commitment to improve diversity in the Fire Service. Nationally, the mostly white, male dominated profession, has for years struggled to meet its goal of more closely reflecting the diverse communities it serves.
Ann said: "The national emphasis on equality and diversity in the fire service, in terms of ethnic minority and female staff ratios, is really difficult to achieve when there is very little recruitment. It can also be an uncomfortable agenda for what is seen as a very male-orientated organisation. But soon after joining KFRS, it was obvious that one of the real issues was understanding the diverse needs of the communities we serve.
"As well as attending fires and road traffic crashes where firefighters may have to help people who are disabled or don't speak English, the service also does a massive amount of fire prevention and community safety work. We've come up with strategies, such as working closer than ever with local authorities and groups, to reach people who are vulnerable and this has massively helped the understanding of our internal diversity debate."
Every year Kent's firefighters deal with around 20,000 incidents making it one of the busiest fire and rescue services in the country. To understand the core of the business, Ann regularly visits front line staff at fire stations to talk about the ways they work.
Ann commented: "The people who help you the most are sometimes outside your field of expertise. I always ask a lot of questions, and I'm fortunate enough to have colleagues who will help me understand the thinking in their areas.
"As a public servant I believe you must never sit back or become complacent. You have to keep looking at every aspect of what you can do to improve. Everyone in the organisation appreciates that these are tough financial times, but as Chief Executive I need to ensure the protection of the people of Kent, the health and safety of staff and of course manage the budget.
"We have continually sought to improve the Service, but I want to ensure that our focus will remain on identifying service-led improvements which result in savings - not finding money which forces change with no benefit."
Date posted: 07.02.11