Assistant Chief Fire Officer Rick Hylton

"In my role I work with a multitude of agencies to join our services together, for example partnering up with social care and the police to protect those most vulnerable. I never imagined when I joined the fire service that I would be spending my time working in these environments and enjoying it just as much as riding a fire engine all those years ago."

From a young age Rick knew he wanted to be a firefighter: "It was all I ever wanted to do from when I was a young child. My dad was an on-call firefighter at Sawston so since I was a young boy the fire service has been part of my life.

"I liked the idea of being a firefighter because it was exciting, it was different. Every time my dad went out on a job it was different from the last and ultimately, he'd always helped people. I wanted some of that.

"I was probably no different to any other kid - it was all about the big red fire engine, going to fires and cutting people out of cars."

After being a teenage fire cadet Rick attempted to join the fire service at 18, but like many, did not get accepted first time. Instead, he started working at the bakery in Sainsbury's and then headed off to university to read sports science.

He explains: "While at university, I applied for the fire service again and this time I got in. I had to make a decision whether to continue with my degree or start the job of my dreams. For me, it was a no-brainer and I joined the Service."

Finally, Rick could be part of the practical and physical job he'd longed for. Starting off at Cambridge, he knew he had a lot to learn and so was taken in by his first watch to learn the ropes and day in day out and hone his new skills.

Rick undertook some exams while working to enable him to progress but admits he didn't want to climb the ladder initially.

He says: "I wasn't fussed about taking leading firefighter exams because all I was interested in was being a firefighter and riding the pumps. But about three years in I started thinking I fancied something a bit different. I wanted to try riding in charge of a fire engine and having more responsibility so I put myself forward to act up."

And so Rick started his journey up the career ladder, first to crew commander, then watch commander and eventually climbing through the ranks. "Even at the lower levels, being a manager gave me the chance to stand on my own two feet," he explains. "There were moments at the start of my management career that were challenging and sometimes showed me I didn't have to follow what everyone else was doing to fit in. I started to make my own decisions."

He continues: "It was my time as a watch commander at Stanground Fire Station that challenged me the most I think. I learned a lot about myself but most importantly it gave me the experiences and tools to be able to manage people.

"A lot of the techniques and attitudes I have now are as a result of my time spent managing a challenging watch and I'm thankful for that opportunity. I didn't know if I'd be able to do it but the Service knew I could do it and gave me the opportunity to deliver."

But Rick wanted to go higher. He didn't, however, have the right qualification. He explains: "I refused to sit back because of a decision I'd made earlier in my career to not take a particular course. I went out, found the course, did it and took that piece of paper back to my manager. I was determined and I think perseverance pays off in the fire service.

"I got noticed and I think when I was promoted to station commander my career took off in a number of ways. I realised I wanted to do more and the fire service was a bigger world than I originally thought."

When Rick was promoted higher still to group commander rank, he said it was the shock of his life. "For the first time ever I had to take a walk outside because I could not comprehend that at 30 years old, I'd made the grade," he reflects.

"Within 18 months I had gone from riding a pump fire engine as a station officer in charge, to managing two of the biggest districts in the county.

"I never doubted that I could do it - all I ever wanted was to do the best job I could. From that point forward, it was about bringing together all those skills I had learned along the way about managing others and putting them into action to get the best out of people."

Now, he is the Service's youngest member of the directory advisory board. He says: "I'm proud and grateful the organisation has trusted and invested in me. I've worked hard and been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.

"I want to continue to make Cambridgeshire as a fire service, the best it can be. That's always been my aim; to be the best I can be and do the job the best I can.

"I never thought at the start of my career that I'd be where I am. All I wanted to do was be a firefighter and ride fire engines but as soon as I started being able to make a difference and shape things and as opportunities created themselves, I took them.

He concludes: "I have a strong work ethic, I don't shirk responsibility, I go the extra mile and I've always treated people with respect - that's what I think has helped me get to where I am.

"If you want something and you've got the ability to do it, then you will get it in the fire service. If you are prepared to keep trying, work hard and be proactive, then you will succeed."