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13 November 2014

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You are in: Birmingham > BBC WM > WM Features > Making history

Vij has made history by becoming the Uk's first Asian fire chief.

Vij Randeniya

Making history

Vij Randeniya has made history by becoming the UK's first ever Asian chief fire officer. In April 2009 he spoke on BBC WM's Midlands Masala show about his role as the West Midlands Chief Fire Officer.

To hear the full interview with BBC WM's Satnam Rana click here:

48 year old Vij who now lives in Birmingham says that he has worked really hard to make it to such a senior position.

Vij with the latest piece of technology called 'Isis'

Vij at work.

"26 years ago I joined the London fire brigade and then after university I couldn't figure out work out what I wanted to do, so I worked my way through the various ranks. I then spent 15 years there and then spent some time in Nottinghamshire as the Head of operations and I have been in the West Midlands for nine years."

He says that one of the challenges that he is dealing with includes trying to access the British Asian community.

"They are not hard to reach, I don't accept that as a concept. I think they are hard to influence. Quite often we struggle to penetrate into those communities - both for giving advice and recruitment. Some people in the Asian community view the fire service how it would have been viewed back over in India, Pakistan etc. It's trying to overcome those cultural perceptions."

Changing perceptions

According to Vij Asian youngsters in today's society are often presented with dilemmas when it comes to choosing careers. He says they often have to battle between what they want, and what their parents want. He describes one situation where he had to face that very dilemma:

Vij using the latest equipment called Isis - which is used to give an aerial view of incidents to help incident commanders.

Vij using a new piece of equipment called 'Isis'.

"When I joined the fire service my parents didn't approve they thought it was a waste of university education. Now of course they think its completely different. I managed to get into the Times about twenty years ago. My father then went out and bought a dozen copies and sent them back to Sri Lanka. So there is a real challenge in how people perceive us."

The role of Chief Fire Officer

The role itself has lots of different layers and there are many different aspects to the job. Vij agrees that the job is very risky but his team is well equipt to deal with various incidents.

"We have 39 fire stations overall. Our job involves, putting out fires, preventing fires, we deal with tornadoes, floods and couple of years ago we sent teams out to Kashmir. My firefighters will save more people out of cars then out of buildings."

Vij is proud of his achievement and recognises how important his role is.

"The West Midlands Fire Service is the second biggest fire service in England and Wales. We are 2,600 strong and to be in charge of an organisation like that is a privilege and an honour. My parents are really proud, and it was a fantastic phone call when I told them I got it. Now I have a huge sense of responsibility to make sure the service operates at its peak.To get to a chiefs job, you have to have a particular vision about where you want the service to go. I'm very clear about my vision it’s to make the West Midlands Fire Service the best in the world."


Vij feels that the British Asian community is under represented in the Fire Service.

Vij visiting Reservist troops in Afghanistan as part of his job.

Vij visiting Reservist troops in Afghanistan

"One word that comes to mind is its poor in terms of representation, that’s not just in the West Midlands but across the country. In my organisation it’s less than 1 per cent. That’s not untypical, that’s unfortunately one of the things we have to break through."

Although the West Midlands Fire Service are not recruiting at the moment its always worthwhile checking the Fire Services website for further information.

Making it into the history books

When asked about how he felt making it into the history books. Vij says he never thought that this time would come. 

"With a bit of hard work and a bit of luck things things can come through. It’s important for British Asians to see someone from an Asian background succeeding."

To hear the full interview with BBC WM's Satnam Rana click here:

last updated: 23/04/2009 at 17:46
created: 23/04/2009

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