With the first anniversary of Linear Fire Safety's launch fast approaching, Bill McDonagh shares his career story, his thoughts on being part of Linear Group and also key issues facing the industry in the year ahead.
Tell us about your career
On leaving the Army in 1977 I joined Strathclyde Fire Brigade in September of that year. I served in many stations in Glasgow, progressing to the rank of Sub Officer within the Fire Prevention Department based in Cowcaddens. Subsequently, I was accepted into The Institute of Fire Engineers as a Graduate in 1985 and transferred to London Fire Brigade where I served until 1989 when I returned to Strathclyde. I rose through the ranks of the Fire Service to become Assistant Chief Officer (Director of Operations) of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue where I was responsible for the operational efficiency and readiness of 2,222 uniformed personnel and the service delivery of 119 fire stations throughout Strathclyde. On leaving the Fire Service in 2007 I set up my own Fire Safety Consultancy in 2008, then joining forces with Linear Group in 2021.
What has been your most defining achievement?
My key achievement to date was being appointed Director of Operations for Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, trusted with the fire safety of all 2.25 million residents. In this role, I was involved in a number of major incidents including as Operational Commander at the Stockline Plastics Explosion in Glasgow and carrying out the Fire Risk Assessment on the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility, one of the largest Fire Engineered Buildings at the time. I have extensive experience of undertaking Fire Risk Assessments in large complex, multi-occupied buildings, and historical heritable buildings
How would you describe your first year as part of Linear Group?
As I approach the end of my first year with Linear Group, I must reflect on the many benefits we have found since joining in January 2021. It has been a very exciting year with us being involved in many new projects. We have gained so many strengths by being part of the Group and having access to the numerous experts who manage the other divisions. It is a privilege to be able to work with such knowledgeable colleagues who are more than happy to support us. By becoming part of Linear Group, I very quickly learned that the strength lies in the Group collective. As I always say, “every day is a school day”, and I am thoroughly enjoying learning new skills to add to my toolbox.
What is the single biggest fire safety issue of 2022 (and beyond)?
I think the single biggest fire safety issue of 2022 is without doubt the proposed Building Safety Bill. I am looking forward to seeing just how the Bill will look when it finally becomes an Act of Parliament which is anticipated in 2023. I believe this will have a profound effect on the UK Construction Industry.
How will the Building Safety Bill change the landscape of fire safety?
I believe the Building Safety Bill will impact the entire UK construction industry and will change the way many constructors perform. In my opinion this will benefit constructors who already carry out their business in a conscientious way. What happened at Grenfell Tower has brought the construction industry into sharp focus and the findings of the Dame Judith Hackett Review will introduce the Golden Thread of construction fire safety, evidence from Design to Handover of the building to the client and the on-going fire safety management for the life of the completed building. This can only strengthen the case for the ethical constructor, and I am firmly of the opinion that Linear Group falls into this category.
Have you seen a change in understanding and attitudes towards fire safety commitments in recent years?
Sadly, my experience in fire safety has led me to believe that we still have too many builders and building owners who only pay lip service to Fire Safety Regulations. Far too many are still failing in their duty to carry out competent Fire Risk Assessments in their premises and many ignore the advice contained within the FRA’s when they have them. Far too often I experience incorrectly fitted fire doors and breached fire walls, ceilings, and floors. Building owners, managers and builders need to understand that these are pieces of life saving equipment and they should be maintained to the highest standard throughout the lifespan of the building. I anticipate the new Building Safety Bill will rectify much of this.
What are the biggest challenges to educate businesses about fire safety?
There needs to be a change of mindset in business owners, they need to accept that the days of cutting corners in materials and build quality are far behind us.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
I have been privileged to serve with many brave and influential men, if I were forced to choose who had the greatest influence, I would have to choose Jim Coyle QFSM. I first met Jim when I was promoted to Station Officer in Polmadie Fire Station in Glasgow. Jim was Deputy Commander at the time, and he took the time and effort to advise me about how to lead and manage firefighters, importantly teaching me the difference between managing and leading. Jim went onto become Firemaster for a while before his retirement. Sadly, Jim passed away not long after retiring and I still miss him and think about him often. He was a true leader.
Describe yourself in three words
Reliable, dedicated and sincere
What do you do in your spare time?
I have two grandsons, Luca and Matteo who I adore and love spending time with. I am a passionate football supporter, following a well-known team in the East End of Glasgow as well as being an avid angler, fly fishing for trout and salmon at every opportunity. I used to keep a rod and reel in my Fire Brigade car so I could fish when I was visiting the remote stations throughout Strathclyde and the islands. I also adore my Labrador Alfie, who I walk four times a day rain, hail, or shine. Having been married for 42 years to my wife Cathy (Director of Internal Affairs), all of the above is dependent upon her assent.