PETER BARRON pays tribute to Stuart Errington who retires today as Chief Fire Officer for County Durham and Darlington – precisely 30 years after he joined the service as a raw recruit

WHEN it comes to fire and rescue, it would surely be hard to find a family that could hold a candle to the Errington clan, of North-East England.

Their hot streak started in 1966 when Eddie Errington joined Newcastle and Gateshead Fire Service and went on to proudly wear the uniform for the next 32 years.

Eddie’s son Stuart followed in his dad’s footsteps by joining up at Aycliffe Fire Station on January 11, 1993. He went on to become County Durham and Darlington’s Chief Fire Officer and officially retires today after 30 years’ service.

Now that Eddie’s grandson, and Stuart’s son, Alex, has become part of Blue Watch, based at Peterlee, the family’s fire-fighting traditions might even be described as a case of ‘hose the Daddy?’

“It makes me extremely proud to know that three generations of my family have served County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service for more than six decades, and seeing Alex pass out was the proudest moment of all,” said Stuart after working his last shift just before Christmas.

Indeed, the retiring chief chose to spend his final day by sitting alongside Alex, and the Blue Watch crew, on a fire appliance based at Peterlee.

“It couldn’t have ended in a better way – it was just perfect,” he added, despite getting a traditional drenching from firefighters armed with buckets of water.

Eddie, along with Stuart’s mum, Carole – a nurse for 32 years – were among family, friends and colleagues who gathered for the soggy and emotional send-off.

“Every time he got promoted, we got prouder and prouder,” said Eddie. “Then, when Alex joined up, that was the icing on the cake.”

Brought up in the old mining village of High Spen, Eddie had a choice of careers as a young man: “I heard on a Saturday that I’d got into the fire service, and was offered a job with the River Police the following Monday, but I’m glad I became a fire-fighter – it’s been a good life,” he recalled.

As a boy, Stuart was “always a daredevil” and, consequently, was a frequent visitor to the accident and emergency department at hospital after various scrapes.

“I think that’s probably what inspired me to be a nurse!” laughed his mum.

Stuart originally had ambitions to be an RAF pilot but stayed grounded and began what was to be a decorated career in the fire and rescue service, serving at a number of stations, but mainly based at Consett, before taking up an influential role at the training centre.

In 2006, Stuart spent two years seconded to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as a Business Change Manager attached to the National Resilience Programme for Fire and Rescue Services. He became Assistant Chief Fire Officer in 2009, Deputy Chief Fire Officer in 2012, and Chief Fire Officer in August 2015, making him the first person in the history of the service to progress internally from firefighter to Chief Fire Officer.

Beyond County Durham and Darlington, he made his mark nationally on a number of fronts, including being elected as National Secretary of the Association of Principal Fire Officers, between 2011 and 2017, and sitting on the performance committee of the National Fire Chiefs Council. He was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal in 2021.

Peter Chisholm, a Crook-based retained firefighter for 33 years, who was among those at Stuart’s farewell, praised him for his support of the Firefighters Charity. “There’s no doubt the charity wouldn’t be as strong in this area without him. He always agreed to any request if it was at all feasible.”

Another of those in attendance, County Councillor Bob Glass, who served on the fire authority, added: “Stuart’s greatest strength was how he valued people and got the best out of them – he’ll be a great miss.”

The Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, said there was no doubt that the service had thrived under Stuart’s leadership.

“Thank you for commitment, dedication, and hard work – you’ve made a huge, tangible difference,” she wrote in a letter marking his retirement.

In his leaving speech, Stuart paid tribute to friend and colleague, former Assistant Fire Officer, Dominic Brown, who died of cancer in June, 2021. “Attending Dom’s funeral was the hardest thing I had to do,” he said.

He went on to thank his parents, and wife, Julia, for their “unstinting support” and said he had “absolute confidence” that the service was in safe hands, with his successor, Steve Helps.

“I’m proud to say it’s the most productive fire and rescue service in the country by a long way,” he said. “It’s been an unbelievably good ride – thanks for the memories.”

As one career ends, another is just beginning, and 19-year-old Alex is “loving” life as a firefighter. “All my life, I’ve seen how much dedication Dad’s put into the service and what a brilliant job he’s done, so it’s an honour to be maintaining the family tradition,” he said.

There are big boots to fill – but it helps when your grandad and dad are your role models.

STUART has attended more fires than he cares to remember – but no-one goes through a 30-year career with everything going according to plan…

In his leaving speech, Stuart remembered the time he was on duty with Consett Green Watch, and the crew responded to a call-out.

They were on their way back, having successfully dealt with the incident, when the control room called again, this time in response to a report of smoke coming from the building next to Elddis Transport, in Delves Lane, Consett.

The realisation suddenly dawned that the building in question was none other than Consett Fire Station, where a member of the crew had been cooking chips before the first call-out and had left the pan on.

“We put it down as a false alarm – good intent,” Stuart revealed.

Unsurprisingly, that’s one job that wasn’t released to the press. Until now!

ON a personal note, Stuart Errington has been one of the nicest people to deal with in all my time in journalism. He understood we had a job to do, and helped us to do it.

Whether it was being engaging, open and co-operative with the media in covering major incidents, or saying ‘yes’ to every request to support North-East charities in a variety of ways, he’s been a joy to deal with.

Congratulations, Stuart, on a flaming fantastic career – and here’s to a long and happy cooling off period.