Northumberland’s Chief Fire Officer has announced he is retiring from the role, amid proposed changes to the service.
Alex Bennett came to the county in 2002, having already served 18 years in Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service. He transferred to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service as head of operations and divisional commander, leading on a number of modernisation projects for the service. He became Deputy Chief Fire Officer in 2005, Acting Chief Fire Officer in 2010 and was promoted to Chief Fire Officer in January 2012.
At the end of last year, he defended proposed changes to the service, which includes removing the retained (on-call) fire appliance from West Hartford Community Fire Station, as well as replacing the second retained (on-call) fire appliance at Alnwick Community Fire Station and the retained (on-call) fire appliances at Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler Community Fire Stations with smaller fire appliances. The proposals have proved controversial, with a petition being launched against the potential cuts.
During his time in Northumberland, Alex has led the fire and rescue team which was awarded a National Innovations Award in 2010 for developing a partnership with Sure Start that has seen community fire stations and children’s centres located together.
He chairs a UK Fire Services breathing apparatus user group and the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, a multi-agency partnership. He was also until recently the Chief Fire Officers Association’s technical workstream lead officer for wildfire.
Speaking about his retirement, Alex said: "It has been a privilege to be the chief fire officer of Northumberland for the last five years, leading a superb organisation of dedicated professionals protecting our communities. I have been proud to be involved in modernising the service, while seeing it through major challenges in improving performance and managing significant financial pressures."
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the council and member with responsibility for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Alex has had a long and illustrious career and is a great credit to the fire service. Fire and rescue plays a key role in our communities and it is down to the hard work and determination of people like Alex that the service is held in such high regard by people right across Northumberland. And as well as in our own county, Alex is respected across the country, having played a key role in the peer reviews of other fire and rescue authorities. I have very much enjoyed working alongside him, and have appreciated his leadership and support. I wish him well for the future."
Steven Mason, Northumberland County Council’s chief executive, added: "Alex has led the fire and rescue service through some challenging times and I would like to thank him for all of his hard work and commitment. I would like to wish him all the very best in his retirement. He will be a great miss to the authority."
During his career, Alex has been involved in some memorable incidents including, while in Berkshire, the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992 and in Northumberland major flooding events in 2008, 2011 and also late last year.
Alex is due to retire in July and the council will be appointing his successor in the coming months.