Hunt for new Norfolk fire chief

Sarah HallThe hunt is on to find a new chief fire officer for Norfolk - at a time when the fire service is facing a controversial overhaul as part of a �1.5m cuts package.Sarah Hall

The hunt is on to find a new chief fire officer for Norfolk - at a time when the fire service is facing a controversial overhaul as part of a �1.5m cuts package.

Interviews for the post, which has a salary of �120,000 a year, plus benefits, will start next month, but whoever takes over from the recently-retired Richard Elliott will face a tough baptism.

After almost a decade in the top fire job, Mr Elliott officially retired at the weekend and a key task for his replacement will be to oversee the transformation of the fire service, which has caused anger among the Fire Brigades Union.

Fire service bosses say the changes will increase rural cover and give the flexibility to deal with freak weather events such as flooding, while insisting safety remains the number one priority.

But union leaders are furious at the prospect of job cuts and reduced fire cover in urban areas, including Norwich, and warn the changes could cost people their lives.

It is against that backdrop that the new chief will begin work, with applications for the post having closed in the middle of March. Council bosses met last week to draw up a long list of candidates to step into Mr Elliott's shoes and preliminary interviews are due to begin in mid April.

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Mike McCarthy, previously the deputy chief fire officer, this week officially took over as acting chief fire officer, while Mr Elliott officially retired on Sunday .

The 52-year-old joined the fire and rescue service in Hampshire in 1975 and had spells with West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, at the Fire Service College, with London Fire Brigade and Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service before joining Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service as deputy chief fire cfficer.

He became Norfolk's chief fire officer in 1999 and became the county's director of community protection, overseeing Trading Standards, community safety and emergency planning in 2006.

Mr Elliott said: 'The time is now right for me personally to retire and pursue my many other interests.

'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 is in good shape and one that has much to be proud of, despite these extremely challenging times.

'To be the chief fire officer for Norfolk has been a great privilege and has been more than a job to me.'

The county council is also looking for an assistant chief fire officer - although that post will not be filled until the new chief fire officer is selected, so they can take a role in recruiting them.

In September unions hit out at an award to Mr Elliott of near 15pc pay rise from �99,100 to �113,600, while rank and file firefighters were getting a 1.25pc wage increase.