Friday, 22 February 2013

It is interesting to see the different approaches being taken by Fire Authorities with regard to council tax. Some, like East Sussex, have taken the freeze grant, some have raised council tax by an average 1.9% and some of those, who are able to, have increased council tax by £5.00 per household.
We are now preparing for a seminar with the Fire Authority to consider options over the next four years. We know that our government grant will continue to reduce over that period, but what is not certain is whether there will be any increase in council tax.

What is certain are that we will need to plan for a significant reduction in our finances and how we balance this against our aim, which is to make our communities safer and more sustainable. Recently, the Fire Minister Brandon Lewis suggested that Fire Authorities should consider setting themselves up as mutuals and went even further by saying that Fire & Rescue Services could be privatised. My strong belief is that Fire & Rescue Services are a core part of the public sector and should remain in the public sector. Some years ago I saw a private Fire & Rescue Service in operation across much of Denmark, it was not a model I believe should be introduced into the UK.

We do need to ensure our Service is run professionally, adapts to changing circumstances and does even more to protect our communities as what might be termed a Civil Emergency and Community Safety Service. I also believe we should be doing a lot more in emergency trauma care and to support the increasing workloads in the emergency ambulance service. I look forward to Sir Ken Knight's review, which I hope looks at strategic issues and what the Fire Rescue Service (FRS) should be doing to add real value to our communities. East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) will be making a response to the review, which should be published later this year.

After quite a work focused week I was looking forward to a bit of light relief watching the Brit Awards, but found it all a little dull. Mumford & Sons are unquestionably great musicians but not a patch on Coldplay or Emeli Sande’s great voice and they are not in the same league as Amy Winehouse. As for One Direction, just a later version of the Monkeys, they are never going to get anywhere near the Beatles.

The music scene is just lame today; bring back the Pistols, the Clash or Siouxsie and the Banshees, that was proper music! Now finishing off the Blog watching the super Blues, although still finding it difficult to get excited about the Channel 5 Cup, this is for underachievers like Spurs, Liverpool, Everton and Newcastle. Disappointingly, the European Champions have to compete in what, in rugby circles, is known as the Plate Competition. As I write I don't know the result so this will go to print with me expecting Chelsea to be the only English club left in the competition! Was I correct?

My week:
  • Met with colleagues in Wales and had the opportunity to look at whether there were going to be any further re-organisations. In 1996, the then eight Welsh Fire Rescue Services amalgamated to form the three Services we now see and I understand there are some views that Wales should follow Scotland and have one FRS for the whole country, whilst our Members are still looking at options for a merger. Catch up meeting with Principal Officers (POs) to discuss forthcoming Marlie Farm civil court case; a briefing has now gone out to staff to update them on this matter. Planning for the LGA Fire Conference in Brighton is going well and we will have a number of volunteers at the conference, who will showcase the work of ESFRS.
  • Telephone conference call with a number of colleagues from across the country; I try and use video and telephone conferences, where I can, as it’s a great saving on time and travel.
  • Went to a meeting of the cross-sector leadership exchange, where we had a presentation from the Design Council on how leaders should be bringing the principles of 'design' into business change initiatives; quite impressive and a useful business tool.
  • Had a meeting with Capita who are the new owners of the Fire Service College to discuss how we can support the development of courses, accreditation of the programmes they deliver and how to support them to grow the business. It is in all our interests to make this new venture a success. The Fire Service College is a unique asset with a fantastic range of operational training facilities but does need investment. Capita will bring this investment and the Service will have the knowledge and expertise to make this a real success for now and future generations of firefighters.
  • I had an evening meeting with the Chief Constable Martin Richards to talk about the role of the new Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) and how this is working. Will be meeting with the PCC Katy Bourne to discuss how ESFRS can work with the Police to support community safety. Last week, it was announced that Northants Police and FRS were sharing a headquarters and workshop, as well as looking to share the use of other buildings. The Government is keen to see how this works and for other Services to do the same.
  • Busy day at headquarters and should have met with Alex Probyn, one of our firefighters from Preston Circus, to shadow me. However, unfortunately due to crewing Alex had to remain at Stn 4. My first early meeting with the Chairman covered a lot of finance issues and his preparations for a seminar next week, then a meeting with Brighton & Hove lawyers to discuss the service we get from them, followed by a meeting with one of our officers, Pup Upton, then met with Bruce Hoad for an update on Operation Florian, then a briefing from Paul Evans, Irene Woolway and Mark O'Brien on how we can introduce 'lean' principles into our business, to save time and money and be more effective. After that, a briefing with POs and finally a meeting with Dom Hawkings, a consultancy firm working on behalf of Capita.
  • Went to National Strategic Advisory Team (NSAT) meeting at the London Fire Brigade Control Centre in Merton; this is a small team of senior officers who provide strategic advice to government in preparation for or if we have serious incidents and civil emergencies. Debriefed our role at the Olympics and lessons learned and also the co-ordination of flooding during November and December where many High Volume Pumps (HVPs) and other national resources were mobilised across the country.
Firefighters from Hailsham and Heathfield were called out to a road traffic collision (RTC) near Horam where two vehicles had collided, with one female casualty trapped. The two crews worked together to release the casualty, who was then transferred to hospital. Heathfield were out again the same day, this time with firefighters from Uckfield responding to another RTC at Cross in Hand, where two vehicles were involved with two people trapped. Again good work by the crews, they managed to free both casualties who were initially treated at the scene. It was real drama at Uckfield Picture House (such a quaking name and far removed from the modern multiplex, where the audience were evacuated following a smell of burning.

Crews from Uckfield used a thermal imaging camera to find the source of the fire which was located in stair safety lighting. Firefighters from Barcombe along with two appliances from Haywards Heath were called to a fire at the Coach House, North Chailey, where they found the roof well alight. Further appliances from Uckfield, Crowborough and Lewes responded to the incident which required the use of three main jets and eight sets of breathing apparatus to bring the fire under control. And crews from Bexhill and Bohemia Road were called to a 'persons reported' incident in Bexhill; firefighters wearing BA rescued one person from the property which was 'well alight' using three hose reel jets to extinguish the fire.

It's great to close on a good news story and to truly acknowledge the power of technology and IT and how it can really improve quality of life. I'd like to say hello to Kevin Beverley who has been paralysed and brain damaged for the past 20 years. Kevin, who has only been able to communicate through grunts, now has an iPad app called Grid Player that has let him 'speak', with his first words being "at last, someone can hear me". How fantastic, my very best wishes to Kevin; talking is good for the soul!