Fire chief to step down

Norfolk's fire chief Richard Elliott is to retire next March after a decade in the top job.The 52-year-old is stepping down after 35 years in service.

Norfolk's fire chief Richard Elliott is to retire next March after a decade in the top job.

The 52-year-old is stepping down after 35 years in service.

Last night, Norfolk County Council said it would start the hunt for his successor, while union leaders urged the authority to appoint a new chief from within the ranks and not from a non-fire service background.

Mr Elliott, who first joined the fire service in Hampshire in 1975, was appointed chief fire officer in September 1999 and became the county's director of community protection, overseeing Trading Standards, community safety and emergency planning, in 2006.

In September, it emerged that he had been given a near 15pc pay rise from �99,100 to �113,600 while rank and file firefighters were getting a 1.25pc wage increase.

The pay award was widely criticised at a time many in the public sector are facing job cuts and pay freezes, and his retirement could fuel a fresh debate on the potentially lucrative final salary pensions to top bosses in the public sector.

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During his time in charge, Mr Elliott successfully steered Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service through one of the biggest periods of change in its history and helped reduce arson and the number of fires in the county.

A focus on community safety has also seen thousands of safety checks carried out in people's homes and more than 20,000 schoolchildren made safer by attending the fire service's Crucial Crew events.

But critics were angered at a decision to move the Norwich fire HQ from Bethel Street to a new site in Trowse, and he has also been attacked for gaps in fire cover in parts of the county.

Mr Elliott said the time was now right for him to move on.

“During my nine-and-a-half years as the chief fire officer in Norfolk there has been an enormous amount of change and I believe that I will be leaving a service that is in good shape and one that has much to be proud of, despite these extremely challenging times,” he said. “To be the chief fire officer for Norfolk has been a great privilege and has been more than a job to me.”

Neil Day, regional officer of the Fire Brigades Union, said he hoped Mr Elliott's successor would reverse the Bethel Street decision.

“There have been positives and also downsides, but when we did sit around the table we did tend to achieve good business,” he said. “But there was a lot of anger over his pay rise. We were told that was the only way to retain the best officers, but it seems that no sooner has he got that, then he is off.”

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for fire and community protection, said Mr Elliott would be a hard act to follow.

“I have worked with Richard almost since his arrival in Norfolk and he has made a big difference to our county,” he said. “Richard has always had the good of the fire and rescue service at heart and it is a pleasure working with him. Whenever we have travelled around the country together it is always noticeable how well-liked, highly regarded and well-respected Richard is among his peers.”