From globe-trotting Navy man to fighting fires – Redbridge’s borough commander tells all
11:30 10 February 2013
Sitting in his office at Ilford Fire Station surrounded by pinned-up rotas, timetables, notices and plans, Redbridge borough commander Steve Brown could not look more at ease.
After 21 years in fire services across the country, the brigade is his home.
But the 47-year-old has not always been in the fire service, or even on dry land.
For more than seven years, Steve sailed the seas with the Royal Navy as a radio operator.
He said: “I went into the Navy when I was 18 to see the world and get some life experience.
“I did two tours of the Gulf during the Iran and Iraq war, to the Falklands, around Europe, the east and west coasts of America and the Indian Ocean.
“We spent one Christmas in South Georgia and saw penguins – it’s an incredible place.”
But following in his father’s footsteps as a firefighter was always Steve’s ambition and after returning to dry land, he entered his local force in Devon.
Steve said: “I think once you’re in the forces, that’s what you gravitate towards.
“The atmosphere and the camaraderie is great.”
He moved on to the fire brigade in Somerset, before taking the chance to join the London Fire Brigade in November 2008.
Working at headquarters, he helped shape the emergency forces’ strategy for the Olympics and Paralympics, and saw the plans to fruition working in the park’s operations centre during the Games – a “dream come true”.
Steve took up his post as borough commander for Redbridge in 2011, where he now works in partnership with Redbridge Council and the police to promote community safety, works with other borough commanders and London-wide management, and oversees staff at the borough’s three stations.
He can also be called to fight fires with his colleagues when all hands are needed on deck.
In his spare time, Steve enjoys running, cycling and playing a spot of cricket in the summer.
In May 2012, he joined former colleagues in Somerset on a charity cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.
For Steve, being a firefighter is about more than saving lives and responding to emergencies.
He said: “My firefighters go above and beyond their duties with fundraising and work in the community, sometimes more than they get credit for.
“All the staff at our three stations raise money for their chosen charities and the firefighters’ charity.”
Ilford Blue Watch has raised thousands with a round-UK cycle, collections and other events, and took presents to ill children in King George Hospital on Christmas Day.
Hainault, Woodford and Ilford fire stations also held open days that attracted thousands of people last year.
Firefighters enacted daring rescues and chopped up cars for the crowds but the main message was safety – a message Steve is keen to promote.
He said: “People are more aware of fire than they used to be and many do take the initiative to get a fire alarm.
“But we do see a lot of house fires started by cigarettes and candles and people need to realise the dangers of a naked flame.
“Having a smoke alarm and an escape plan can make the difference between life and death.
“There was an elderly lady in Woodford Bridge who we had been to for a home safety visit. When there was a fire at her house she was brought out safely.
“But when we had the fire in Barkingside last week it could have been very tragic. We don’t believe there was a working smoke alarm in the building and it was lucky that it was daytime and everyone was awake. It was a very serious incident and I’d like to praise Red Watch from Hainault, Ilford, Woodford and Walthamstow for a job well done.”
One woman suffered severe smoke inhalation but six people and two children were not hurt in the blaze in Forest Road.
Although many people would consider entering a burning building a risk in itself, Steve said he has never felt in danger doing his job.
He said: “The training we get is second to none and we have the equipment to deal with most situations safely.”
Steve would not be drawn on the glamour of firefighting, from adulation from children to looks from the ladies.
He said he was just grateful that the public trusts the fire brigade to respond to their emergencies and holds firefighters in “high esteem”.
Steve wouldn’t object to his son, 20, or 13-year-old daughter going into the service.
For him, after more than two decades it’s still the best job in the world. He said: “Despite all the changes in the past 10 years it’s still a great career. I can’t imagine a more rewarding job, I would recommend it to anyone.”
And for now, it looks like Steve will stay in his for a long time yet.