Award finalist Tony was inspired by horrific fire to become prevention officer

A horrific fire which involved the death of two young children left Tony Firth determined that he was going to do everything possible to ensure it did not happen again.


This week, the former firefighter is being acknowledged at an award’s ceremony for the fire prevention work he has conducted over the last 15 years. Tony is a finalist in the first ever National Fire Chiefs Council’s Celebrating Prevention Awards 2022 in their Outstanding Contribution Award category.

The father of two and grandfather of seven joined West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) in 1977 and he said that one incident in particular made him determined to focus on fire prevention.

"As a firefighter you are called out to some awful situations, but one that really affected me was in the 1990s and it was an early morning call to a house fire,” said Tony. “The fire had started in the children’s bedroom, and I was one of the firefighters that went into the house wearing protective gear and breathing apparatus to save them. When we brought them out the two girls, aged two and five, weren’t alive. It was then I decided I would work as hard as I could to try and make sure this never happened again."

Tony, who was born in Africa and has lived in Leeds since he was seven, retired from firefighting in 2003 after suffering hearing loss. However, he said he felt too young to retire and when a civilian job became available as a Fire Prevention Officer, he snapped up the opportunity. Since WYFRS started their Safe and Well visits in 2016 Tony has managed 5942 high risk cases and performed 3651 home high-risk intervention prevention visits. He has also safeguarded over 90 vulnerable and at-risk individuals. Despite suffering with prostate cancer, Tony has consistently been the highest performing member of the prevention team.

“I love my job, especially the camaraderie of the team,” said Tony, who used to play semi-professional rugby in the Bradford Northern Rugby League. “I really enjoy working in the community – talking to people and helping them. It was about thirty years ago that I learnt basic sign language and that means I can help fit special alarms for deaf people. I joined the fire service 45 years ago, when I was 22, and I have no plans to retire. Even though it’s wonderful to be a finalist for these awards, the best part of the job is working at the fire station in Leeds and visiting people to make sure they are safe.”

On Thursday Tony will attend a dinner at Hilton East Midlands Airport where delegates will hear about the incredible work he’s carried out.

Naomi Hirst, Leeds district prevention manager for WYFRS, said Tony goes above and beyond in his work. “We nominated Tony for the award as he cares deeply about the prevention work, we do and takes joy in helping people,” she said. “He continually goes above and beyond and is always the first to volunteer to pick up critical cases when others are on leave.

“Tony is adored by staff not just our own but policing partners too, who he works with to deliver our prevention messages at key engagement events. He helps to train new staff in prevention and always supports fire crews with safe and well visits. Every day Tony shows passion, diligence, and a true belief in the purpose behind what we do. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that he wins this award as he truly deserves it.”