Firefighter leaves service on positive note and swaps fire for frets in retirement

Saturday, 22nd February 2020

ONE of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s longest-serving group managers has retired.

One of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s longest-serving group managers has retired.

Toby Wilson is hanging up his helmet after 25 years serving the community and will focus on his career as a musician. He will fulfil his dream of becoming a session musician, which has taken a backseat to his commitments for the fire service.

He joined the service in 1994 as a retained firefighter in Leek and joined full time in 1995 which sparked a long successful career. Toby worked his way through the ranks to become a Watch Manager, Station Manager and eventually ended his time as a Group Manager for the east of the county.

Looking back on his time with SFRS, he said: “One of the highlights of my career was working with other partners to run Exercise Triton back in 2013. This was a live play major dam breach exercise which took place in real-time for four full days. It was immensely complex with live play involving the Royal Air Force, Air Sea Rescue, the military and many other agencies across multiple sites within the county. I remember the relief when it all finished. It had taken two years to plan and we managed to get it done.”

Whilst with the service, Toby has attended countless incidents but one that stuck out was a large-scale water rescue.

He added: “I think that one of the most bizarre incidents that I went on involved the ‘rescue’ of a person seen subsurface in the river quite near to where I live. It was a huge operation, miles down a muddy track in the depth of winter. After several hours of searching, our water rescue teams eventually fished out a plastic shop manikin dressed in a high-visibility jacket. It was like a storyline from Only Fools and Horses.”

During his last week, Toby spent a day back at his roots with Burton Blue Watch attending incidents. He said seeing the new Rosenbauer fire appliance was like seeing a space ship compared to the fire engine he rode when starting out. This is not the only change Toby has seen throughout his career.

“The technological advances, particularly with the road traffic collision rescue gear, have been amazing and will certainly contribute a great deal to public and firefighter safety. However, I think that by far the biggest change that I have experienced is the change in management style and the culture of the organisation. We have a working environment and working relationships that are the envy of many other services. I think that the credit for this should be firmly placed at the feet of our current and recent principle management team. Their forward-thinking approach has been groundbreaking, in my opinion.”

When looking to the future, and those just starting out in their fire service journey, Toby said: “Look after yourself both physically and mentally and talk to family, colleagues or close friends if you ever find yourself dwelling on a nasty incident. Secondly – I have spent my entire career annoying people by asking too many questions. Don’t be afraid to be curious.”

He will now be spending his retirement recording music, touring the UK and spending time riding his motorbike