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‘It’s a wrench to leave’: Outgoing fire chief looks back on time in Camden

PUBLISHED: 18:00 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:58 09 October 2020

Simon Tuhill and Camden firefighters outside Koko the month after they saved the historic music venue from ruin. Picture: David Parry/PA

Simon Tuhill and Camden firefighters outside Koko the month after they saved the historic music venue from ruin. Picture: David Parry/PA

PA Archive/PA Images

“I say to my firefighters this may be your bread and butter incident, but for the person who rang 999 it’s the worst day of their life and you’ve gone along and saved them.”

Simon has spent 23 years with the London Fire Brigade. Picture: Simon TuhillSimon has spent 23 years with the London Fire Brigade. Picture: Simon Tuhill

Camden’s outgoing borough commander Simon Tuhill has tackled some of the area’s biggest fires in recent times – from Camden Lock Market in 2017 to Koko earlier this year.

On Friday, after nearly three and a half years in Camden and 23 with the London Fire Brigade (LFB), he hung up his hose in the capital to move to Hertfordshire as an area commander.

Simon told the Ham&High it was a “massive emotional tear and wrench” to leave Camden.

“So much has changed in my life and in the world in 23 years but one constant has been this little badge,” he said.

Camden's former borough commander (left) commending a crew in 2018. Picture: Simon TuhillCamden's former borough commander (left) commending a crew in 2018. Picture: Simon Tuhill

“I’ve massively enjoyed my time in Camden, it’s been brilliant. I’ve loved working in the best borough. It’s such a vibrant, diverse and busy place.”

In Camden Simon was responsible for 155 firefighters and six fire engines across three stations in Euston, Kentish Town and West Hampstead.

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He pointed to the special moments and bonds formed with colleagues on the ground as some of his fondest memories – but also looked back on the managerial side of his role with a marked sense of pride.

Simon tackling a blaze. Picture: Simon TuhillSimon tackling a blaze. Picture: Simon Tuhill

He highlighted the Grenfell fire as a “game-changer” for the LFB, which alongside the Chalcots evacuation in 2017 prompted Camden to hire the country’s first director of resident safety.

Simon also sat on and helped establish the council’s fire safety advisory panel which enabled greater scrutiny of the service’s decisions.

On answering to the public, Simon said: “Sometimes that’s personally challenging because you have to face the fact you may have made a decision that absolutely wasn’t quite right on the night.

“Not because you made it with any malice, but because we make decisions in high-risk, high-stress, time-constrained situations.”

Having worked his way up as a firefighter in North Kensington 23 years ago, and attended major crises such as the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999 and the July 7 London bombings in 2005, Simon says he’s come to learn everything from the “wheel nuts on fire engines to the commissioner’s PA”.

He added: “The LFB is my family. We’ve laughed, cried and gone through stressful incidents together.

“To think that’s now finished is a real challenge but I’m swapping one family and hopefully integrating into another.”

Mark Davidson has now replaced Simon as Camden borough commander.


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