When the dirt hits the fan we all are ready to move mountains to achieve the right result, and I have worked with some outstanding crews.
After a decade spent serving the community around Tutbury Fire Station, crew manager Chris Foxley has hung up his yellow tunic for good with a message of thanks to all those who helped him through the challenging times and incidents with a “sense of humour”.
On New Year’s Eve (31 December, 2020), Chris said farewell to the station he has served as firefighter and then crew manager for the past 10 years, and spoke of his pride at having done so as he “supposed” it was time to head into “some form of semi-retirement”.
“I would like to pass on my thanks to those people who have helped me during the last 10 years in the service working at Tutbury,” said the 65-year-old, who lives near the village, north of Burton upon Trent. “They have certainly put rungs on the ladder to help me in my development, and I will always be thankful to them.
“I’d like to thank them for their support and hard graft and, more importantly, putting up with me over the years. The feedback I have had has been totally amazing and the [farewell] emails I have had blew me away.
“In particular, my station manager and old training course manager John Kitchener was a task master and he liked to pull my leg a lot about the old courses together. But he really brought out the best in me and had a really great way of managing people.”
Working for a busy fire service brings you into constant contact with other crews, particularly when covering a station for fire engines already out on a call. And Chris was thankful for their support during his time at SFRS too.
“I would also like to thank all the watches at Burton upon Trent Fire Station who I have had a lot to do with over the years, especially the retained guys as they helped me no end during my early development.
“Also Ian Pullen, the White Watch Manager at Burton, he did an awful lot for me and helped me out no end too.
“There have been a lot of challenging times and incidents over those years that I am sure you all remember, some good and some bad. Your sense of humour, when it was appropriate, was really good and is a very important medicine.
“But as we know, when the dirt hits the fan we all are ready to move mountains to achieve the right result, and I have worked with some outstanding crews. Your camaraderie to me personally has been amazing and something I will never forget.
“I’ve had 12 jobs since I left school – more than a few years ago - and working in the fire service stands head and shoulders above.”
Those jobs have been suitably varied. After four or five roles as a car or motorcycle mechanic, Chris then became a self-employed salesman for a quarter of a century. He then became a technical adviser for the iconic Triumph Motorcycles at their Hinckley base, and also owns his own repair shop where he picks and chooses projects to restore.
He also races bikes - taking him to various circuits over the past 25 years - and it’s something he hopes to continue now he will have a little more time on his hands.
He won two national 1000cc Championships in 1991 and 1992 at Oulton Park in Cheshire, and was the National UK 1000cc Classic Champion, also in 1992. He even broke his back in the midst of those 1992 wins – “overcoming hurdles is nothing unusual”, he added.
It was at the third round of the 1992 National UK Championships at Knockhill in Scotland that Chris had an “horrendous accident” to break his back – he’d already won the Oulton Park and Snetterton legs. Not that he knew the full extent of what he’d done.
“I didn’t find that out until three years later when I had another motorcycle accident,” he said. “I chose not to go to hospital. The following day I raced in the Championship race but finished fourth as was suffering and I knew that I couldn’t fall off again that weekend.
“It’s funny as when I was racing if you hadn’t had an accident for a while you started to think, ‘there must be one coming soon’, and when you did have an accident you felt better and started to think, ‘well that’s out of the way for a while’. Ah, that was when age was on my side.
“But to put things into perspective,” he continued, “working as a firefighter and responding to incidents and inviting myself into some of the most uninviting situations I have seen - to total strangers in their hour of need - stands head and shoulders above any of my racing successes.”
Safety and prevention is an important aspect of any firefighter’s work, and for Chris one project in particular stands out from his time in the service.
“I am very proud of the work I did around Tutbury Weir regarding what information I would need turning up to an incident there,” he added.
He called for some red ‘What Three Words’ signs to be made and fixed into various positions. If someone was calling in about an incident they could give the location information to the control room via the three words on the sign and the job would be located immediately using tracking software and given to attending crews in the hope of saving time and lives.
“I hope for any future incidents at Tutbury Weir - and I’m sure that, unfortunately, there will be - I’ve bought the responding crews some valuable seconds that will hopefully lead to minutes,” Chris added.
John Kitchener, his station manager while at Tutbury, said: “I have known Chris from when he first joined the fire service as I was one of his instructors at our Learning and Development department.
“When Chris found out I was then to become his station manager at Tutbury, I don’t think he was too happy. He still had strong memories of me “encouraging” him while he was on the training ground at our headquarters.
“Chris has been an absolutely credit to both himself and Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. He is polite, professional and knowledgeable. He was always reliable and helped me a great deal in my own development as a new station manager. I will miss working with Chris and wish him the very best in his new endeavours.”
These will, on top of his racing and repair work, also include becoming a Staffordshire blood biker. Chris has handed in his application and is waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to ease so he can undertake his advanced riding qualification for the role.
“One minute you’re dealing with and talking to people on a daily basis and then the door shuts,” he adds. “Then that door shuts. It’s such a big change. This is about volunteering to help people now.”
And despite having been robbed of the usual retirement celebrations people enjoy due to the ongoing pandemic, Chris hopes that they might be able to put that right in 2022.
“Normally we would have a drink to celebrate, but with all the Covid-19 things going on that’s impossible. But I think I may have been appointed chief Isle of Man TT trip organiser by White Watch at Burton, so that should be a cracking trip when eventually it happens in 2022.
“I cannot say enough good things about SFRS and how I have been looked after over the years - it is something that I will miss massively,” he concluded.