Chief Fire Officer Richard Fitzmaurice Sullivan (Sully), Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade, pictured in the Isle of Wight County Press 1961.
Sully was known as the father of the Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade, being considered its first Chief Fire Officer when it was officially launched on 2 April 1948 following the disbandment of the National Fire Service.
However the truth is that despite serving as Column Officer of the Island's division of the NFS (the senior fireman in the County), he wasn't first choice for the CFO role.
In October 1947 the Staff Committee of the County Council appointed A.E. Bowles to the position. Bowles joined Gillingham Fire Brigade in 1933 and just six years later was appointed Chief Officer of Fareham Fire Brigade. In August 1941 on formation of the NFS, at 30 years old he was appointed Assistant Divisional Officer at Brighton, and full DO the following year, transferring to the East End of London in 1943. In 1945 he took charge of an NFS mission to Germany to oversee a survey of the defeated nation's firefighting forces.
Selected as CFO-elect in winter 1947 Bowles was immediately at the centre of a disparity of ideas between the Parliamentary and Railways Committee of the Council, the County Councillors and the Secretary of State. The committee's robust recommendations were scrutinised and undermined as both too costly and unnecessary.
Shanklin Fire Brigade's former turn of the century Chief Officer Oscar Rayner, by now an elderly gentleman, weighed in with a scheme of his own that leaned almost wholly on volunteers. Whilst this was rejected so too was every connotation and compromise offered by the committee.
The committee were ground down to unwillingly accept a scheme to which they disagreed. The matter became so discomfiting for Chief Officer-elect Bowles that at a meeting on New Year's Eve 1947 he stated "the scheme is inadequate and liable to break down, I feel unable to undertake the responsibility of operating it". He then handed in his cards, stating that he was seeking preferable employment elsewhere. Bowles was only 36 and a high flyer who subsequently became Commandant at the Fire Service College.
IWCC were stuck and turned back to the man that had led the NFS through recent times.
On 24 January 1948 it was confirmed that R.F. Sullivan was the newly appointed Chief Officer-elect. The decision was a popular one. The County Press article announcing the appointment revealed that he had originally applied for the role but had been narrowly ousted by Bowles.
Sullivan was ten years older, had served in the Royal Air Force between 1921-28, followed by a career with Southampton Fire Brigade where he was appointed Divisional Officer of the NFS in 1941. His appointment to the Island didn't come until after the war in August 1946.
Sullivan's record as CFO, which lasted until retirement in June 1965, was exemplary. The man's energy seemed to know no bounds and he appeared at virtually every brigade event in addition to commanding at major fires. Funerals, church parades, fetes, retirements, Christmas dinners, children's parties and every manner of fire prevention talk and event were either presided by or supported by the Island's indefatigable Chief Officer. The County Press evidences that he was still invited, and attended, many such events for a long time in to his retirement.
Retiring in Shanklin he passed away on 25 September 1990 aged 89 years.