The third person to lead Northamptonshire’s fire and rescue service this month is set to be confirmed in their post next week. Simon Tuhill joined the service initially as deputy chief fire officer on Tuesday and is currently acting as its interim chief fire officer.
He will be confirmed by the county’s police, fire and crime panel next Thursday. Mr Tuhill was asked to lead the service after Nicci Marzec quit on Monday after 10 days in the post. She resigned amid “speculation” over her friendship with Conservative police, fire and crime commissioner Stephen Mold. Mr Mold appointed her despite a lack of any operational firefighting experience, which angered the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Some panel members were left furious when they were not asked to approve Ms Marzec’s appointment before or after it was made. One, Anita Shields, said on Wednesday that Mr Mold’s position was “untenable”. Mr Tuhill will receive a salary equivalent to £140,000 a year while he acts up in the role. That is an increase of about £13,000 on his agreed deputy fire chief contract. Mr Mold’s office said the former permanent chief fire officer Mark Jones left the service on 7 July for health reasons.
West Northamptonshire councillor David Smith, the chairman of the police, fire and crime panel, said he too had been “extremely concerned” that Ms Marzec had been appointed without any confirmation hearing on or after July 7. He said: “I sought confirmation of the legal position from [Catherine Whitehead, West Northamptonshire Council’s monitoring officer] which confirmed my view that the panel must be consulted and this was reported back to [Mr Mold].”
Cllr Smith added: “I am therefore pleased that this has now led to us having a properly constituted panel confirmation hearing scheduled to consider a full report on an interim appointment, in compliance with the proper process. We have strict rules within which we work and it’s vital that we abide by these so that any decisions we make cannot be challenged at a later date.”
Mr Tuhill has extensive firefighting experience. He started his career in London, where he worked for 22 years. He was involved in the response to major incidents including the Paddington rail crash in 1999, the 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
He then worked for Hertfordshire’s fire and rescue service, where he worked for three years and managed 29 fire stations. Papers published ahead of Thursday’s meeting state Mr Mold will advertise for a new permanent chief fire officer in August.
A petition by FBU Northamptonshire calling for Mr Mold’s resignation or his removal by the police, fire and crime panel had been signed by about 160 people on Thursday morning. The union said Mr Mold’s recent decisions “have been nothing short of a sham”.
West Northamptonshire independent councillor Paul Clark, who quit the Conservatives after a public spat in May, also called for Mr Mold to go. Cllr Clark said: “This shambles has damaged people’s trust and confidence in a vitally important public organisation. The Conservative leadership must shoulder its share of the responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. In the public interest I am unable to stay silent.”