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Fireside Chat with Andrew Lynch
Andrew has twenty years’ experience as an award-winning Editor and combines this with being Communications Director for the Fire Sector Federation, Director of The Fire Fighters Charity Trading Company – having been the Chair of the Board of Trustees from 2016-2020 – and Trustee of the Fire Service Research and Training Trust.
Andrew received the Coronavirus Journalism Excellence – Best Comment accolade from the Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters: Excellence in Reporting Coronavirus series for his white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders https://www.fire-magazine.com/a-new-architecture-for-society The opinion piece was selected from over 600 nominations across eight categories.
Andrew has been Editor of FIRE magazine since 2000 – ‘the trusted voice of fire & emergency’; Editor of International Fire Professional – the journal of the Institution of Fire Engineers – since 2012; and founder and host of the Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards since 2014. He was the co-founder in 2004 of the International Joint Operations Command Conference (the first international multi-agency disaster response event).
Andrew has chaired numerous congresses and conferences and has spoken at Number 10 Downing Street on behalf of The Fire Fighters Charity alongside then Home Secretary Sajid Javid in June 2018, and His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge at the reopening of the charity’s Harcombe House centre in Devon in September 2019.
In his tenure as Chair of The Fire Fighters Charity, the organisation has seen a significant turnaround with the Harcombe House centre undergoing a £1.8 million refurbishment and being repurposed to provide physical, mental and social wellbeing support for the whole family.
In July 2019 Andrew formed a new company with fire sector colleagues to take over the fire group of products – Fire Knowledge – and is now the Editor & Publisher of the magazines and events portfolio which includes an umbrella fire sector consultancy, the Fire Knowledge Network.
In June 2020, Andrew launched the ‘Fire for All’ offer for FIRE magazine giving all fire and rescue personnel access to the magazine. This has added over 21,000 subscribers to date.
- How have you been affected by COVID-19?
It’s had a huge impact on the business but before I continue, I have to be very cognisant of what we’re providing as a communications tool. That is, we’re giving a forum for debate and sharing of ideas, best practice etc, largely for the fire and rescue services. They’ve been impacted much more than I have. A big part of what we’re there for is to support front line responders: there’s always somebody that’s had it much worse than me.
On that theme, I was speaking to my one of my sisters the other day who’s a radiographer. My other sister’s a nurse so they’re very much on the frontline. She asked how my job was and I said I’d been working “really, really hard”, as if to somehow justify my existence. Just as I said that my seven-year-old granddaughter waltzed past and said: “No you don’t!” That felt like an inspired intervention: my sisters are the real heroes to me.
However, in terms of the business side, whilst advertising has taken a hit, we’ve evolved our offering in terms of the subscription model. We’re now offering a bundle of print and digital issues to fire and rescue services, which means that we can make the magazine available to all personnel across each fire and rescue service.
We’re particularly pleased with the take-up as fire services are tapping into the personal development aspect. We’re there to stimulate curiosity from personnel so that they can go digging and find out more information, and really help their growth. We feel we’re a small tool in the toolbox and we’ve helped contribute and continue to contribute to personal development.
That dove tails with what the FIA does, which is why we’re working together as well.
Much of this came from a conversation with a senior officer who asked: “Who is FIRE magazine for?” I trotted out the same old answer I’d always given: “Senior officers and those on progression.” As soon as I said it I realised how elitist that sounds and how it really doesn’t chime with the times; we should be making it readily available for everyone in the organisation who has any inkling of interest in personal development, fire safety, leadership etc.
Over twenty-one thousand plus people have signed up for this subscription service, so we’re now reaching around half of all UK fire and rescue personnel. If you’d said that to me when I first started on the magazine in the 90’s, I’d have slapped myself around the face! It’s a different world.
- Do you have any pets?
No, but I need to answer this fully. I don’t have a pet because my lovely Old English Mastiff died many years ago and he’s absolutely irreplaceable. I’ve got three grandkids who live with us and they have a lot to live up!
- What’s your favourite movie of all time?
Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, the latest version. I love John Le Carré, who sadly passed away recently. I think there’s some parallels between journalism and the world of spies. The world can sometimes be deceptive and as journalists we try to crack that web of deceit, as it were, to get to the truth. Mostly, I’m just in awe of Le Carré’s writing ability and to me, he’s one of the great British writers of all time, never mind the genre.
- Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Insouciant, gauche, strange. I said this to my partner and even though she didn’t know me when I was a teenager, she instantly said “gauche”. I probably haven’t changed that much to be honest. I’m certainly still strange as any member of my family would tell you! I’m just more verbose and unjustifiably overconfident.
- What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
Now this one I did ruminate on and went into something of an internalised, existential search. There’s all sorts of stuff that frustrates on a daily basis but then I realised it was actually all in my head and it’s very much down to me and how I respond to things. At essence, on a simplistic level it comes down to self-pity. I can’t bide it. The most annoying thing in the universe is sitting there feeling sorry for myself. It’s why I chased after my granddaughter when she said I didn’t work hard!
- If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
I tried to put myself in a different era but I found it impossible – I really couldn’t do it and I’ve got a good imagination. I looked at my family background: my great, great, grandparents moved from Ireland to Scotland because they needed to move away. Likewise, my father left Scotland to seek new opportunities. I find myself on the south coast having moved from God’s country, Yorkshire. Moving on must be in the genes!
I find myself of a generation that has the most opportunity and in-spite of the difficulty of the day – in the midst of a global pandemic – I’d still rather be here as there are much greater opportunities for the likes of me than there ever were before. I’d mentioned previously about the magazine. When I first started on the journal, I couldn’t have imagined having 24,000 plus subscribers, it just wouldn’t be possible through print; but because of the age that we’re living in we can expand that digital access and it becomes a different world. I couldn’t imagine being stuck in earlier eras.
- What is your favourite quote?
My favourite quote is from John Milton’s Paradise Lost: “The mind is a place in itself. In and of itself it can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven”. There’s a lot to be said for personal responsibility and increasing resilience. It’s also back to that self-pity. Rather than focusing on what I don’t have, it’s about looking at what I do have and being grateful for that.
- If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I think it would be related and I’d still be writing. I’ve mentioned Le Carré, one of my literary heroes, who actually put me off writing novels because I thought if you can’t get in that ballpark, why even bother starting? But I’d be writing something else. I’ve always written other stuff and performed it in some way, shape or form. I think it would be related to what I’m doing now. But to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. I love it. Best job I ever had.
- What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
Very eclectic. I go from the Drop Kick Murphy’s to the Alabama 3, Queens of the Stone Age, Strauss, Mozart. I’m not particularly current. I’m not with it, never have been, never will be. I like a bit of Irish folk, punk, just a bunch of things thrown together, that’s where I’m at.
- If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
I’ll go for a philosopher, a poet and a novelist. Sounds like the start of one of Ian Moore’s bad jokes! The philosopher is Ken Wilber who came up with the Integral Approach which I’m a huge fan of. The novelist would be John Le Carré and the poet is going to be Dylan Thomas because we could do with a good drunken evening and he’d be the man to do it – I’m also a huge fan of his.
If I could have an extra person in, for a bit of humour, I would definitely pick Ian Moore, so that we’d all have somebody to take the piss out of. I think that’s important on a night out and Ian is perfect for that. Not for the jokes, for being the butt of the jokes, that’s what he’s best at; to which he would say: “None taken”.
It would be a struggle to keep Ian quiet, but the grown-ups would be talking philosophy: I’d ask Ken to explain where his theory of everything and Integral Approach came from, who Dylan was thinking about when he wrote ‘Do not go gently’, and how Le Carré created a whole parallel universe of spies. I’d be asking questions and passing the brandy back and forth to Dylan so it should be a great night.
- What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
A pen and paper so I can write, exercising what’s inside and jotting it down is my idea of therapy and escapism. So, I think a pen and paper would be essential. Having said that, five minutes in my head is long enough so being pragmatic a large boat would be more useful. A luxury yacht preferably.
- Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. That’s a great poem. Milton’s genius was to make the devil so alluring. We obviously know of leaders that elicit wide support through being captivating on a base, emotional level to elicit vast swathes of support from the public and create large, morally vacuous movements that support them. I just think of Milton when I see those types and see them for what they are – the devil themselves.
- If you had a spirit animal, what would it be and why?
I’ve got a tattoo of an eagle on my chest and my father had a tattoo of an eagle on his chest. I don’t know why he did it and I’m not sure why I did. But in retrospect I like the metaphor of taking the aerial view, being eagle-eyed and of course swooping down for the kill. The imagery of flying above it all sits nicest of all though.
- What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
Love. That’s the best gift to receive and to give and share.
- What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
I am in my closet right now; this is a converted walk-in wardrobe that I’m using as an office. I’ve got a lot of shoes. I’ve learnt this from Neil Gibbins (former IFE President and Chief Executive). Neil Gibbins has great shoes. I’ve got a couple of pairs now that can rival Neil’s, so each time we turn up at an event, we try and out-do each other with the shoes. That’s worth coming out of lockdown for.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The power of foresight to know what’s happening next. Then I would be quite good as a journalist – I could capitalise on that. I do toy a little bit with futurology and because of journalism you do tend to do a lot of stuff on what the fire service and fire sector will look like in ten/twenty years’ time.
We’ve also done lots on resilience since 9/11 and being prepared for everything, including global pandemics. It’s all coming. How can we best mitigate the impact? What are the steps that can be taken now? One of the positives to come out of all this is the role of science and the research community and the fact that it was all set-up to be able to find a vaccine in a miraculously short space of time. We need to use that and concentrate on taking the necessary steps now. That’s why we’re calling for a Charter for Resilience https://www.fire-magazine.com/charter-for-resilience.
I think there’s a broader view where leaders in all sectors should be aware of what’s going on in the world and how we need to plan, always, for the future. I’m fascinated by that. Having a foresight superpower would sure help but I’d happily divest that to the Prime Minister and government ministers.
- What's the best piece of advice you've received?
My Father used to say to me: “If you want to get on in life you need to jump up and down and make a noise.” That’s a piece of advice that I’ve taken to heart throughout my life and career. He didn’t mean it to be a literal translation, although sometimes you do need to do a bit of tub thumping. It’s more about making your view and your opinion known at the right time and in the right place. I’d like to think I’ve introduced some diplomacy and subtlety to that approach.
I reflect on the fact that if nothing’s happening, if I’m not making any progress somewhere, then do something different and do something about it and that’s the way to get on. Difference is key to me. What am I doing that is different to anybody else out there? It’s a good bit of advice.
I could go to my Mother for advice but “being careful” all of the time doesn’t hit the right note for me!
- What time did you get to work this morning?
At about 8am, but I then went and sat with the kids and we had a long breakfast discussion about where they came from. I said one of them came from the armpit of a gorilla, another one from the trunk of an elephant. It was that kind of conversation. They’re quite young, it’s not like they’re 18 or anything. The 18-month-old wasn’t really playing any part of it but the other two were getting stuck into it – all useful information like Nanny coming from the stone age.
Then I eventually sat down to work. It was a bit late because I get side-tracked by that type of discussion, which is fun. I’m lucky to have them with us, especially at this time. Then they started their home schooling with the responsible adults, who are more capable and do the hard work.
- What does your usual day look like?
It’s pretty much wake up, family, work. I get a coffee and sit with the kids and then sit and look at myself virtually the whole day, which is horrific, and yearn for the day that I can leave this tiny closet and go and meet people in real life. I really look forward to it.
On the other hand, this format has really opened up things virtually, as it has for many people. I will have contacted more people on a one to one-basis than I would have if I’d been travelling up and down the country. So, there’s obviously a kind of balance to be sought in future whereby needless travel will be expunged. I think networking will be more important than ever, but it will be a lot more focused.
- What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
Everything, because there’s so much to be done post-Grenfell; there are so many improvements to be made. There’s so much progress to be made with government, with contractors, end users. There’s progress to be made across the board with fire safety initiatives, from sprinklers, passive protection: everybody’s got so much to offer.
- What is the latest technology/invention/innovation you would like brought into the fire industry?
On the fire and rescue side, I think the service as a whole can be a little old fashioned and many have only just started to use technology that the Scandinavians and others have been using forever and a day, such as cold cutting equipment. We need to think about the next generation of technological advancements, such as robotics and drones. If you look at some of the warehouse fires that are causing massive disruption and destruction – such as Ocado – we’re not embracing advanced technology in order to combat that; too often we’re spraying water on complex machinery and we need to incorporate more of a sophisticated mindset to put protective measures in place.
I think the whole infrastructure needs thinking over. If Google ran fire, as the comment goes, how would they respond using technology and global positioning and all of the data at their disposal? They don’t run fire because there’s not enough money in it, but we need to think like them, about how we approach what we currently do. We’re only scratching the surface at the moment.
- What do you like about the fire industry?
I like the can-do attitude that is at the heart of it with people deeply committed to advance public safety. There’s a real heart and determination to improve systems and standards and structures across the board. That seems to be universal across everyone I’ve met from within the FIA, Fire Sector Federation, the IFE and of course, the fire and rescue services.
- How does your work and family life come together?
It’s pretty much interconnected. I absolutely love what I do and I’ve got a huge ambition to keep moving it forward. But that doesn’t come at the cost of family. It’s always a difficult, delicate balance that I haven’t always got right in the past. But I think one fuels the other to a certain extent. At the moment it’s easy for me working from home and getting all the responsible adults to do the home learning graft. I just pop in and talk gorillas’ arm pits and stuff, so I get the nice bits. I’m a lucky man.
- What matters most to you?
Family, love, friends, colleagues, human interaction. It’s all about connection.
- What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
I’d tell myself to just relax, everything’s going to be alright. I would also say: “Watch your drinking, it’s a marathon not a sprint. And don’t hang out with people like Dylan Thomas!”
- What motivates you?
To be part of something, a forward momentum, change. I recognise tradition, being aware of where we come from and using the lessons learnt from history. But with that in mind it’s about moving forward so that we can improve society for the betterment of all.
It doesn’t have to be a slog; it’s leaning into it rather than pushing uphill. It’s a pleasure being part of a progressive movement, whether that’s the magazine or the broader fire sector. Every meeting that I had with The Fire Fighters Charity was always about asking how can we improve the service to our beneficiaries? It’s always about improving services. I think it’s the same in journalism, with the magazines, looking at the different models publishers use. It’s about being part of a like-minded community and I find that fulfilling in and of itself. As long as I can play a part, I will do, for as long as people will put up with me.
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I was going to say here but I don't mean physically here (in this office/closet), I mean within the sector I've been in for a quarter of a century.
There is stuff around the edges that I would like to improve and I would like to work slightly less hard and still enjoy the fruits of my labour on a very personal level. Maybe lecture the grandkids on what I do! On a broader level I want to be a part of having helped change and improve fire safety standards and fire service personal development and I would like to do that for as long as people will have me.
- Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
The FIA is a key component to help to move the industry forward and it is the largest trade industry within Europe, as Ian Moore likes to say. The people I know well, from the Chair to the CEO and people on the board are all passionately trying to move forward fire safety standards.
I think it’s essential to work with great partners on the big issues that we all care about by providing the best information and discussion forums for members and subscribers. It is a pleasure to work with people who are so committed to the constant improvement of our industry.
- What do you want to say to the readers?
Be kind to yourself and each other.
In the next edition of Fireside Chat will be with Paul Fuller CBE, Chief Fire Officer Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
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*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.