Greater Manchester’s Chief Fire Officer awarded King’s highest fire service honour

Greater Manchester’s Chief Fire Officer has been awarded The King's Fire Service Medal for distinguished service in the 2024 New Year’s Honours.

Dave Russel, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) receives the award for services to the fire and rescue service and public safety.

Dave has served in the fire and rescue service for more than 30 years. Most of that time was spent at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) before moving to GMFRS in September 2020 to take on the role of CFO.  

Since joining GMFRS, Dave has transformed the service’s leadership and culture and significantly improved the training, preparedness, and capability for responding to terrorist attacks and mass casualty incidents. Just last month, the service was awarded ‘Emergency Service of the Year’ along with two other awards at the 2023 FIRE Magazine Excellence in Fire and Emergency Awards.

Dave said: “I am truly honoured and surprised to be awarded the King’s Fire Service Medal. It’s been a huge privilege to be part of the fire and rescue service for 32 years and to serve and protect the people and places of Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

“But it’s not a job that can be done alone and this award is not just for me, it’s for those who have supported me on my journey, including all those at GMFRS who have worked tirelessly over the past three years to support the continuing transformation of our service into what is it today.

“I want to pay tribute to my colleagues and hope they can all share in this good news as we continue on our journey to becoming a modern, flexible and resilient fire and rescue service.”

The fire service is part of Dave’s DNA, with his father having been a firefighter and later the Chief at LFRS. The 51-year-old joined the service just days after his 19th birthday in 1991.

On joining GMFRS in 2020, Dave was faced with the challenge of the ongoing pandemic and a public inquiry into the emergency response to the Manchester Arena attack. GMFRS was still recovering from what was referred to as it’s ‘darkest hour’ and the lengthy inquiry was a difficult period.

With the support of a newly established leadership team, new policies and procedures, and new governance processes, Dave continues to transform the service and GMFRS has gone on to achieve significant success and recognition more recently. 

Under Dave’s leadership, Ofsted inspectors rated GMFRS ‘Outstanding’ for its approaches to personal development and behaviour and attitudes last year and rated the service as ‘Good’ overall for its effectiveness as an Apprenticeship Employer-Provider. It followed Greater Manchester’s high ranking in the latest national Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers.

Over the past three years, GMFRS has steadily climbed up the rankings in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index – this year the service was ranked 50th, moving up 43 places since 2022. 

Dave has built strong relationships with operational crews through repeated station visits to listen to their views. He has improved staff engagement through new staff surveys, the growth of staff networks, and initiatives such as ‘Freedom to Speak Up’, which takes best practice from the NHS to create a platform for staff to suggest improvements or raise a grievance, supported by trained guardians.

This earned GMFRS an innovative practice accolade from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which recognised GMFRS as being ‘Good’ at promoting its values and culture in its most recent inspection and moved the service from ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Good’ at ensuring fairness and diversity.

Consecutive staff surveys have seen improvements in staff satisfaction, the vast majority of whom now see GMFRS as good and improving.

Dave has also committed to improving GMFRS’s buildings, facilities, and equipment. This year saw building work start on new state-of-the-art fire stations, the completion of a new Leadership and Development Academy at the service’s training and safety centre, and delivery of 12 new and innovate fire engines. 

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This is an exceptional achievement, and on behalf of everyone here in Greater Manchester I want to congratulate Dave on his King’s Fire Service Medal and thank him for his service to our city-region.

“When Dave joined us in 2020 we knew that he was coming in at a time of change for the service, following the devastating experience of the Arena attack. He shouldered that responsibility immediately, and because of his commitment to working at every level to improve GMFRS, our fire service is now stronger, more resilient, better equipped, and better prepared than it was before.

“I’ve no doubt that Dave will be looking forward to getting back out there with the crews and continuing that work throughout 2024. We take great pride in the knowledge that his dedicated service in Greater Manchester and throughout the North West has been commended at the highest level.” 

Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for police, crime, criminal justice and fire, Kate Green, said: “We are so proud of Dave and everything he has done since joining GMFRS. This honour – the highest that can be awarded in the fire service – is richly deserved for a career spent serving communities in our city-region and across the North West.

“Dave would be the first to share any recognition with his colleagues past and present, and that is the measure of who he is as a person and a leader. From day one in Greater Manchester, he made it his priority to uphold a culture of openness, integrity, and professionalism across all areas of the service. He has already steered GMFRS through some significant challenges, from the pandemic to the arena inquiry, and the progress made by the service in that time has been recognised by official inspectors and by peers across the country.

“Dave’s frontline leadership is transforming GMFRS for the better, and this award truly is a testament to the difference he and his team are making.”

29/12/2023 22:41 PM