Search

Borough fire chief Rodney Vitalis on growing up in Hackney – and why he chose the brigade over playing for Arsenal

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 December 2017

Rodney Vitalis (right) collecting his 20 years’ long service and good conduct medal from former London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: London Fire Brigade

Rodney Vitalis (right) collecting his 20 years’ long service and good conduct medal from former London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: London Fire Brigade

LFB

Rodney Vitalis is Hackney’s most senior firefighter. He tells Emma Bartholomew why he didn’t want to join the police – and how he spent a year phoning the fire brigade to ask for a job before anyone picked up

Rodney Vitalis wanted to become a professional footballer before he decided to go into firefighting.

Rodney, Hackney’s interim fire chief, grew up on four different council estates in Hackney and was scouted by Arsenal aged 15.

“I thought I’d made it but it’s quite competitive,” said the 51-year-old father-of-two, whose mum is from St Lucia and dad from Antigua.

He played semi-professionally until he was 26, alongside “odd jobs here and there” – but he wanted to find something that would really challenge him.

“I thought about the army, and I was a bit young,” he said.

“I thought about the ambulance service, and the pay wasn’t great. I thought about the police, but growing up in Hackney it would be a strange career to go into knowing some of the people I was friends with off duty I might have to arrest on duty.”

But he decided the fire service would be perfect.

“It was the excitement of the job – it was sport-oriented, and mentally and physically challenging, and it’s all about team work,” he said.

But it wasn’t plain sailing. He had to phone up the recruitment line every day for a whole year before his perseverance finally paid off and someone answered the phone. He began training in 1995. The first simulated fire he put out was “very hot”.

“It’s a little bit uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. The adrenaline gets going, and that’s when you start relying on your training. It is all about how you manage your emotions and your fears and get the job done.”

But putting out real-life fires was even more taxing.

“You are dealing with stuff that’s not planned,” he said. “It’s very dynamic.

“Going in with good crews, they take you under their wing, and that’s when your training really starts. The more you are exposed to it, the better you are at doing the job.”

Since October 2014 he has been station manager at Shoreditch, Homerton and Stoke Newington, and is hoping his application to be the permanent borough commander for Hackney will be successful.

“I feel privileged to be in the role I’m in,” he said. “Twenty-three years ago, when I applied to join the fire service, I wouldn’t have believed that I’d be in the position I am now. I’m invested in working in Hackney because I grew up here.”

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hackney Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hackney Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hackney Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hackney Stories

Yesterday, 18:10

Sheldon Harnick is best known for penning the lyrics to Fiddler on the Roof, but the 93-year-old collaborated with composer Jerry Bock on another Broadway musical about a Jewish family with five offspring

Yesterday, 16:00

In an article from our ‘Year in Sport’ pull-out, we look back on the changes at our two Old Spotted Dog clubs in 2017 and what the future holds

England international only needs two more goals to reach a hundred in the league and netted a hat-trick against Southampton on Boxing Day

Yesterday, 13:00

The 36-year-old former Reading skipper insists the O’s will not let up between now and the end of the season

Yesterday, 12:26

A top Hackney cop says police know who the moped crooks in London are – and it’s a case of “picking them off one by one”.

Yesterday, 12:04

Severely disabled children and adults have been unable to get routine appointments at a special dental practice for nine months.

Yesterday, 09:58

Police want to speak to this man after a woman was sexually assaulted while walking home from a night out in the Finsbury Park area.

Yesterday, 08:00

In an article from our ‘Year in Sport’ pullout, the other teams in the Six Nations have their chances previewed

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists