A Message from the Chief Fire Officer: Celebrating Five Years of Leadership and Announcing Retirement

I am writing to you today (17 April 2024) with mixed emotions, as I reflect on my five years as the chief fire officer of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and announce my intention to retire at the end of the year, on the completion of 30 years of service. 

It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this outstanding organisation, which has been recognised as one of the best fire and rescue services in the country.  

From being rated outstanding for values and culture by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, to being named Fire Service of the Year in national awards, our collective accomplishments have been received modestly by those in the service as simply part of the job. I am immensely proud of the achievements we have made together, especially in the areas of prevention, protection, response, and resilience. We have faced many challenges and opportunities, and we have always risen to the occasion with professionalism, courage, and compassion. 

The Covid-19 pandemic proved one of the most demanding periods in the Service’s history and we were at the heart of Lancashire’s response to the crisis, applying our skills and expertise in areas where we could support communities and make a difference. During the Winter Hill moorland fire, an unprecedented incident, firefighting took place for six weeks and together we managed to protect homes and vital infrastructure across 18 square kilometres of countryside.  

Some of the highlights of our achievements include: 

  • Reducing the number of fires, injuries, and deaths by 25%, 30%, and 40% respectively, through our effective prevention and education programmes. 

  • Improving the safety and compliance of over 10,000 buildings and businesses, through our robust inspection and enforcement regime. 

  • Enhancing our operational readiness and response capabilities, through investing in new equipment, vehicles, and training. Some of our significant investments include the purchase of 12 new fire engines, the upgrade of our command and control system, and the development of our urban search and rescue team. 

  • Transforming the way we fight fires using aerial intelligence by leading nationally on the use of drones, and since expanded for use in underwater searches. 

  • Adapting to climate change emergencies through specialist wildfire units and tactical advisors, off-road vehicles that can access rural terrain, and flood and wildfire PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for every firefighter. 

  • Strengthening our response to fires in commercial properties with capabilities that enhance firefighter safety and firefighting capability, while at the same time minimising fire damage to businesses. 

  • Leading canine innovation with the introduction of dogs in search and rescue operations, with our dogs and their handlers being deployed to worldwide emergencies, alongside the adoption of wellbeing dogs to support the health of our own staff. 

  • Strengthening our resilience and collaboration, through establishing new partnerships, mutual aid agreements, and contingency plans. 

  • Helping to deliver half a million Covid-19 vaccinations in Lancashire, with 125,000 administered directly by our staff. 

  • Collaborating with North West Ambulance Service on their community first responder initiative which sees our staff respond to life-threatening medical emergencies from the workplace.  

Profile picture of Justin Johnston

I have also been fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated and talented people in the fire and rescue sector, both within Lancashire and across the UK. I would like to thank you all for your support, collaboration, and friendship over the years. You have made my job rewarding and enjoyable, and I will always cherish the memories we have shared. 

As I prepare to retire, I am confident that Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is in a strong position to continue to deliver excellent services to the people of Lancashire and beyond. I have full faith in the leadership team and the staff, who have shown their commitment, innovation, and adaptability in the face of change. I am also excited to see the new developments and initiatives that will shape the future of the service, such as the digital transformation programme, the community safety strategy, and the diversity and inclusion agenda. 

Thank you for the honour of serving as your chief fire officer. It has been the highlight of my career and a privilege I will never forget. 


After receiving the news of Justin’s retirement, The Chair of the Lancashire Combined Fire Authority, Councillor David O’Toole, has issued the following statement. 

Chief Fire Officer Justin Johnston has been an outstanding leader of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. He has led the Service through some of the most challenging times in its history, including the Covid-19 pandemic, but also through periods of great progress and achievement. 

“His passion and support for innovation in firefighting resulted in the Service being at the forefront of introducing drones and dogs into fire and rescue services, forever changing firefighting and search and rescue operations. 

“In his role as vice chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Justin has driven forward improvements and innovation in the sector to the benefit of Lancashire and fire and rescue services throughout the country. 

“In Lancashire, he has nurtured a service that truly values individuals, welcomes differing views and ideas, and prioritises health and wellbeing in ways that support people to succeed. The Service has been recognised nationally in this respect and commended for multiple achievements under Justin’s leadership, a sentiment shared locally by colleagues, partners, and communities. 

“On behalf of the Authority and the Service I would like to thank Justin for his outstanding service. He will be missed greatly but leaves a legacy of excellence, innovation, and unwavering determination to make a difference in Lancashire’s communities.

The Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Mark Hardingham, has also issued a statement saying:  

Justin has long played a significant national role supporting fire and rescue services. Over many years he has led the work on fitness standards drawing in the rigour of academic research and support to underpin the work. 

“In the last three years he has stepped into the role of vice chair of the NFCC supporting me in my NFCC Chair role. In that time, he has worked extensively with Government and all the national fire service bodies. Alongside providing me with personal and professional support, he has led in areas such as organisational learning, academic research and peer support to other fire and rescue services. I look forward to continuing this work through to Justin’s retirement.