Here is our Fireside Chat with Neil Budd, Technical Manager at the FIA. This interview touches on starting as an apprentice and working his way up to where he is now, travelling to European destinations with the FIA and a chance meeting with Jeffrey Archer.

04 May 2022 by Adam Richardson, General Manager



I’m Neil Budd and I’m the newest member of the technical team at the FIA. I’ve been here since the beginning of 2019. 

I started my working life on an electronics apprenticeship with a company called ABB Kent Taylor and that was in 1999.  Then after that, I entered the world of fire detection and alarms and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve worked for several different fire alarm companies, some are members, some are not.  Up until 2015 when I decided that I could offer my own business, offering life safety system support and commissioning services to the industry.  A lot of the time working for some of my old employers as a subcontractor. 

Things were going well and I’d started on the FIA pathway to the advanced qualifications and I was paying for it myself through my own company. 

I had a conversation with Mark Stubbs, one of the FIA trainers, after I’d completed the Foundation course and he invited me to the BETA test for the Commissioning exam. At that exam, he told me about a job as a trainer at the FIA and I liked the sound of that and applied. I was then told that the position was no longer available, but they then said they saw me more as a Technical Manager. I saw this as a massive opportunity for me to progress.

On a personal note, I live in Corby in Northamptonshire with my partner, we have 4 children between us, and the family tree is quite complicated. I have a 21-year-old daughter, my partner has 2 sons who are aged 18 and 14 and together we have an 8-year-old daughter. Most people have probably met my 8-year-old daughter on Zoom over the last couple of years.

So, that’s me.

How have you been affected by Covid-19?

A little, I suppose. I work from home anyway, lockdown didn’t affect me, but I felt obliged to do that one hour daily walk that the government advised us to do. I didn’t want to exercise for an hour day, I don’t do that normally.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we were on holiday in Lanzarote and 4 hours before our flight was due to leave, we received a message telling us our flight had been cancelled. I had to be back to work in a couple of days from then, so the panic was real. We eventually managed to get flights for a couple of days later, so I only missed one day of work. We came home via Madrid though, which was a hotspot for covid at the time.

Having to home-school every day, between myself and my partner was challenging. We both still had our jobs to do, but as everyone was in the same situation, it was acceptable for a cameo appearance from a child on Zoom.

With work, we moved the training courses and CPD’s online, and we came up with a new “Technical Breakfast Club” idea where myself and my colleague Will Lloyd would go live on Zoom for half an hour and get people to ask us anything.

I did get covid in February 2021, I wasn’t that unwell with it, but I did lose my taste and smell for 7 months, which was quite difficult and made food boring.

Personal Questions

Do you have any pets?

Yes, they’re not officially mine, they belong to my partner, we have 2 cats named Bruno and Oleg. They spend more time sitting down than me. My youngest would like a dog but I don’t think she’s keen on having to clear up after it.

What’s your favourite movie of all time?

It varies. There’s always a go-to one and that’s the ‘Blues Brothers,’ which came out in 1980. When I flick through the channels and that is on, that’s it, I watch it, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

More recently it’s ‘Hot Fuzz,’ a fantastic film and the better of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy films.

My current favourite is the Guy Ritchie film ‘The Gentleman’ there’s a lot of swearing. I like a comedy.

Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?

Sarcastic, enthusiastic, and unique.

What is your biggest pet peeve/hate? 

People who cannot load a dishwasher properly. I struggle to see how people can’t understand how things will fit into it if they place everything into it correctly. I’m the only one in this house that knows how to load a dishwasher properly. People that just open the door a bit and slide the plate in, they should know that plates go back right, bowls go front left. I have a system.

If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?

I’ve never put that much thought into it. Being born in the ’70s was a pretty decent time to start from. Advancements in technology have been amazing, just in my lifetime, personal computers and mobile phones. My 8-year-old daughter doesn’t understand that I didn’t have Facetime when I was 8. Having to remember your friend’s 4-digit phone number and finding out if your friends are in by going on your pushbike and physically knocking on their door. It's a decent time to grow up in because if you go back too far, things were a bit primitive.

What is your favourite quote and why?

It’ll have to be a quote from a film, but most of the quotes I like are not clean enough for printing here so “Nobody tells me nothing” from Hot Fuzz will have to do. Because it’s true!

If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?

When I was 5 or 6, I wanted to be a civil engineer and what I wanted to do was build bridges because I was great with Lego, wood and things like that so, I was always going to be doing something practical. Then I moved on and I wanted to be a TV camera operator. When I was 8, I wrote to the BBC and I got a reply which he said I that I needed to work hard at school, the job sounded less attractive then. If someone were to offer me that job now, I’d still love to do it.

What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?

I use Google and YouTube for my music source. I have a 90 s-2000 playlist at the moment. I listen to all sorts: Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Verve and music like that. I saw Oasis live at the Millennium Stadium as well as the Foo Fighters in 2005. Which incidentally is the venue for the FIA FIM Expo this year, although it’s now called the Principality Stadium. I’ve seen Queen with Roger Taylor, Brian May and Adam Lambert on their tour, and we’ve got tickets to see them again this year. If I think right back to my childhood, there are The Carpenters and Lou Reed who also appear on my playlists.

If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?

I’d prefer it if they were alive. Dara O’Brien the comedian and mathematician who I’ve seen Live twice, he’s a comedy genius, when he talks to the front row at a comedy gig, he’s very good at incorporating that later in his show, he picks up and feeds from his audience.

Roger Taylor from Queen can supply the music because he’s not just a drummer.

Nigella Lawson. To bring the food, obviously.

What two things would you take to a Desert Island?

Sun cream because it’s ridiculous how on the first day of any holiday I practically turn into a lobster. I think ‘Hey, I’m a Brit, it’s not that hot” and I don’t bother with sun cream. I ought to really, but I never learn.

Secondly, a satellite phone.

So, I’d have enough cream to see me through until someone can come and pick me up.

Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?

I don’t do a lot of reading, except technical stuff for the job. My eldest daughter bought me a book of awful Dad jokes. Here’s one at random for example:

“What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck”

I did say they were awful. You’ve got to have a laugh in life, even if it’s a bit cringey.

If you were animal, what animal would you be and why?

A cheetah. It was my favourite animal as a kid, it’s the fastest landed mammal in the world. It doesn’t reflect me, I guess, because if you saw my London Marathon time from 2012, you wouldn’t think I was a cheetah. I completed it; I don’t say I ran it.

What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

My daughters. Secondly, Big Track, it’s a programmable truck with big wheels and you make it go from A to B from programming it. You could probably be quite jealous of me if you’re over the age of 40, except I didn’t get it when I was a kid, I got it when I was 33. My other more adult gift is my Krups SUB beer dispenser. I had to build a bar in the back garden in 2018 for it, just so I could pretend I was on holiday in Spain.

What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?

A comfy Superdry hoodie.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility, I could get up to so much good with the power of invisibility.

Professional Questions

Where’s the most interesting place that you have ever been with the Fire Industry?

When you work in the field of the fire industry, you get to go to so many buildings. I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to go abroad with the industry until I came to the FIA. I represent the FIA at Euralarm, the European Association, and since then I’ve been to Madrid, Berlin and Brussels.

I’ve worked in prisons, hospitals, and prestigious places like the Shard in London. I commissioned the fire alarm system on levels 32 and basement 1. When I worked at North Sea Camp prison near Boston, servicing the fire alarms there, I met Jeffrey Archer, the writer and politician. He was an inmate there as he’d got in trouble for perjury or something like that. He wrote ‘Prison Diaries’ while he was there and I bought his books just to see if I featured in any of them. I didn’t. That was a waste of money.

What's the best piece of advice you've received?

Measure twice, cut once. Lock-off the gas first. Don’t do today what becomes someone else’s job tomorrow.

The best bit of advice I received was from my dad when I was a teenager which was “Don’t ever talk about politics, religion or money in public, those are the three things that will get you in trouble.”

What time did you get to work this morning?

About 7.30 am. I’m always at work, my office is between the living room and the kitchen at home.

What does your usual day look like?

The laptop usually goes on between 7 and 8 am, I have been known to start earlier, but not all the time. I don’t do any sort of Yoga in the morning; I usually get up at the last minute and start work. It’s usually a quiet time before 9 am, the external calls don’t usually start until after about 9 am so I can get on with the emails that come in overnight first thing. No two days are really the same. We’ll have lots of meetings with the Euralarm side of things and it’s worth remembering that most people in Euralarm are an hour ahead, I ought to get 2 clocks on my wall.

The laptop stays on until gone 5 o’clock because having been in the field, I know that technicians on their way home will use that time to ring for tech support.

Working from home means I get the opportunity to share the school run with my partner, more often than when I worked in the field.

How does your work and family life come together?

Since covid, my partner’s been working from home as well, so it’s a fight about who’s going to make the next cup of tea. I still get nagged for not being here, when I do have to go away for work, so I can’t win, but it’s a good balance really.

What makes you excited about the future of this industry?

Being involved with the FIA over the last 3 years has been really exciting. We’ve got the qualifications, that’s great for the industry. We’ve got to try to get the younger adults more involved, earlier. People talk about the skill shortage in the industry, and we need to close that gap. So, getting the younger adults involved at an earlier stage is key to making it happen. I think it can happen, so that’s quite exciting to be involved in that with the FIA.

What does the fire industry need?

Competent people doing the job and that goes back to getting younger people involved. There are still too many people having a go and not understanding why they’re doing it and why it should be done to a certain standard.  We’ve got the Third-Party Certification of companies, but what about how we go about showing the competence of individuals? Yes, we’ve got the qualifications but what else is there? Is there a gas safety register style scheme for fire alarm technicians? This sort of thing is all stuff that could be good for the industry and I’d quite like to see that. That also involves the end-users asking for that competency, asking for somebody who is competent to come and do the work, not just the next available person. They need to know to ask for that. If you were to phone up and get a boiler engineer you would expect them to be gas safety trained and have the relevant training. Why is it not the same with fire? It’s life safety.

What do you like about the fire industry?

It’s everything I’ve known for the last 22 years. Things have moved on a lot. The standards have moved on a lot. If you try to explain it to a teenager, it’s doesn’t sound that exciting but when you’re out there and you’re doing it, it can be the most exciting job out there. You get to go and see all these places and meet these people and if you know what you’re doing and you’re doing it right, then the world is your oyster. On top of that, you’re actually making a difference as well. For instance, did you know that I saved Rihanna’s life? One of the systems that I commissioned at a hotel in London had a fire in the lift shaft, the fire alarm was activated, and Rihanna was there in one of the suites and she got out alive. So, there you have it, I’ve saved Rihanna’s life. Not a lot of people can say that.

What matters most to you?

Professionally, getting the job done right and helping others to know how to do it right.

What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?

Pay attention more at college and don’t apply for that credit card.

What motivates you?

Being able to help people in the industry to do the job right as well as receiving the good feedback. When you receive that email or phone call from someone saying thanks and how it’s really helped them. It’s great to hear that I have been able to help somebody with a tricky situation. I’ve been there and done it with loads of fire alarm problems and a lot of the technical things people phone me about, I think ‘Yep, I’ve seen that before, I know what that’s about’. It’s nice to be able to talk to people on the same level as I’ve been there and I know how to do it, I’ve got the T-Shirt. But then there’s always those new situations where you really have to delve into the problem to find a solution. I enjoy that too.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

Spain.  I’d love to be retired as probably most people would, but I think I’ll still be doing this job. In the industry, things are moving forward, and I don’t think I could walk away from it yet. If the FIA still want me in 5 years’ time, I’ll still be here.

Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?

It’s given me the opportunity to broaden my knowledge of the Standards. I’ve got the experience from the field which I can bring to the table at FIA and the Committees at BSI to help shape the future of standards.

The FIA website was always my go-to resource, so if you have a question about anything to do with the fire industry, and you know the keyword to use in a search on the website, then you’ll probably find a document about it and that’s what’s great about it. There are a couple of documents that the working groups are working on which I’ve instigated from my own experiences. Having people from industry in the FIA is so important for the membership and the industry as a whole.

What do you want to say to the readers?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, hopefully, it does show that I’m not just a voice on the end of the phone and that I am a real person as well.