Mar 25, 2002
A DEDICATED fire chief today revealed the secret heartache behind his rise to the top.
Few of Barry Dixon's fellow officers know that for the last four years Greater Manchester's new county fire officer has been battling against multiple sclerosis.
The father of two from Whitefield said: "I was absolutely devastated when they said it was MS. I knew very little about it at the time and all I could see was my career coming to an immediate end, which I was not prepared to accept.
"You realise how vulnerable you are. I never thought that something like this could happen to me in my late 40s.
"After being diagnosed I was put on non-operational duties and felt I would be pensioned off from the service."
But Mr Dixon, now 51, won his battle to beat the disease and is ready to take the £90,000-a-year post of leading the Greater Manchester brigade.
"I started to suspect something was wrong in 1993," explained Mr Dixon. "There was a sensation in my leg and I visited my GP. The fire service is a very physical job in which you can pick up knocks and bangs and I thought it might be work-related."
The feeling in his leg and bouts of tiredness continued and, after an MR scan at North Manchester General in 1997, a specialist confirmed the condition.
Mr Dixon said: "At that time I still thought it was life-threatening. As it turns out, MS can be something that you get one hit of and it doesn't develop, or it can be progressive and in some cases very aggressive.
"I began to form the view that I was really lucky. My condition wasn't heart related, I didn't have cancer, or a brain tumour. It was MS, which many people have to contend with.
"There was a determination on my part to continue. I'm passionate about the service. I did consider quitting early after being diagnosed. I thought if my health was going to deteriorate without warning maybe I shouldn't be here. But I've always thought I could offer something to the service. I'd like to think I've made a difference.
"I don't want to be seen as some kind of martyr, but if I can cope with something like this it might give others the strength to contend with their problems.
"The tiny minority upset me when they feel they can't attend work because of a sniffle or a twinge.
"They are damaging the reputation of the service that so many people have worked really hard to improve."