Retiring fire chief ends career with mix of ‘pride and sadness’

Lee Neale speaking to participants of the fire and rescue service's Firebreak course
Lee Neale speaking to participants of the fire and rescue service's Firebreak course

West Sussex’s retiring acting chief firefighter says he ‘couldn’t have wished for a better way’ to end his career.

Lee Neale became a retained firefighter in Essex at 18 and after two decades of working his way up the ranks joined West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service as assistant chief fire officer in 2009, later becoming deputy chief fire officer in 2013.

Acting executive director for communities & public protection and chief fire officer Lee Neale, who joined part of the WSFR charity climb at the Assembly Rooms in Chichester. SUS-160831-125933001

Acting executive director for communities & public protection and chief fire officer Lee Neale, who joined part of the WSFR charity climb at the Assembly Rooms in Chichester. SUS-160831-125933001

For the past year he has stood in as acting chief fire officer for Sean Ruth, who has been acting chief operating officer and deputy chief executive at West Sussex County Council.

Lee, who lives in South Harting in the Chichester district, said: “It’s a career I have absolutely loved. I have got so much from it personally and professionally.

“I think my overwhelming emotion would be one of sadness that I’m going to have to give up the job I love doing, but also a sense of pride that I have had a great career and always tried to do my best and what’s right.”

Asked if he would encourage others thinking about becoming firefighters to apply, he said: “I would say yes, do it, without a shadow of a doubt.

“If I had my time again I would join again. It’s a fantastic and rewarding job. I would recommend if for anybody.”

One of the highlights of his year at the helm has been welcoming in 12 new wholetime firefighters, the first batch of recruits in eight years, and the first ever trained within West Sussex.

He described the ‘humble’ attitude of all the ‘amazing’ fire and rescue staff he has worked with and thanked the service’s senior team for their ‘massive support’.

He said: “I’d like to thank the service and the people within it for their support and tremendous hard work during my time here.”

He added: “It’s been a fantastic opportunity, I could not have wished for a better way to end my career. It’s been a real privilege and honour.”

Both Lee and Sean joined the service on the same day in October 2009 and he described Sean as a ‘great colleague, a good boss and a fantastic friend’.

Sean, who is returning as chief fire officer and executive director for communities and public protection, alongside his role as deputy chief executive of WSCC, said: “Lee has been a first class fire officer for West Sussex and, although we obviously wish him well, we’re sad to see him leave.

“He’s kept that enthusiasm for the fire and rescue service he had as a retained firefighter and passion for helping others right through his career and all the way to chief fire officer.

“His role may have changed over the years as he progressed but Lee has never lost touch with his firefighter ‘roots’ and remains as genuine as ever, a top ‘boss’ and a great colleague.”

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