Friday, 1 February 2013

The appalling fire in Santa Maria in Brazil illustrates the very real dangers of fire that can strike anywhere and at any time. As I listened to the terrible news, it reminded me immediately of the Stardust Disco fire in Dublin in 1981 where 48 people lost their lives.  I was a young Sub Officer back then and the events in Dublin were much talked about on station. The speed with which the fire spread in Dublin was a great shock and the panic that ensued when people tried to get out simply contributed to the horror.

The Brazil incident will no doubt have some similarities and I cannot imagine what it must have been like, the sheer terror that those young students felt, with early reports saying there was only one fire exit; and the graphic scenes with Brazilian firefighters breaking through the wall of the building only served to illustrate the horror.

It should also focus our minds on the need for fire safety, for DP inspections (During Performance) and that prevention and protection is not an optional extra, it is not a desirable part of the role of the Fire & Rescue Service, it is absolutely essential.

We are fortunate to have high standards of fire protection in the UK, highly qualified and experienced fire safety officers and firefighters who know about means of escape, fire alarms, exit signs, emergency lighting etc. We must continue to reinforce these skills and ensure the UK Fire & Rescue Service not only remains excellent in operational firefighting, but remains at the forefront of fire prevention and fire protection.

I'm looking forward to the start of the six nations rugby this weekend and have managed to wangle a ticket - pretty confident that we'll beat the Scots who look like they will do well to avoid the wooden spoon, although they should be good enough for Italy. However, I wouldn't take a lot of notice of my sporting tips as I got it completely wrong last Sunday when I thought Andy Murray would win his second Grand Slam, then Chelsea would absolutely muller Brentford! I got both of them wrong and it was looking like a miserable weekend when along come Spurs and Liverpool to give us all a good laugh - and good old Brighton nearly beat the Gooners but another Walcott miss hit managed to spare Arsene's blushes with the Albion well worth a replay.

But if you want some sporting fun, check out the surfing on the Atlantic coast off Portugal. Earlier this week Garrett McNamara surfed a wave estimated to be 100ft high, looks incredible and must have been a great adrenaline rush. It makes the three footers I ride in my kayak off Seaford seem just a little pink and fluffy!

So shall we follow the Police and look to see the next Chief Fire Officer as a 28 year old direct entrant? The Police Service  are considering proposals to open up their middle and senior positions to direct entrants and to people from outside the Police Service who have not been constables. Is it necessary for senior Police Commanders to have served as constables and moved through each rank and does this traditional route prevent talent from outside joining the Police?

What about the Fire & Rescue Service? Is it necessary for senior operational commanders to have been firefighters and operational junior officers? There are currently two Chief Executive Officer’s leading Fire & Rescue Services in England and they are both highly regarded. We have exceptionally talented staff in senior leadership positions in East Sussex who have not been operational firefighters, but they bring different and complementary skills that benefit our organisation.

I believe we are ahead of the Police in this debate but am keen to understand more about the Police proposals and how we may continue to provide opportunities in the Fire & Rescue Service to ensure we recruit and retain exceptional people who are outstanding leaders.  What about a Fire Commissioner along the lines of the Police and Crime Commissioner? This is more of a political debate and it will be interesting to see how this new model works in the Police before considering any changes in Fire & Rescue Services. And if you are planning a holiday and looking for cheap flights, just check before you book with Transavia a cut price Dutch airline who have just reported that one of their pilots fell asleep at the controls of the plane with the Captain locked out after he went to the toilet. Apparently it took some time for the Captain to gain access to the controls where he found the co-pilot sound asleep. Thankfully in a scene reminiscent of Airplane, the emergency blow-up pilot had activated and was in control although I'm not sure that having Mr. Blobby's cousin in charge at 30,000 fills me with confidence!

My week
  • Joint project board meeting with WSFRS; the section 16 agreement is now in place and WSFRS transfer their call handling & mobilisation over to us and we are now discussing the arrangements with staff for the WSFRS control staff to transfer across to ESFRS although they will still work from their Chichester base until the new Sussex Control Centre opens.
  • Met with Principal Officer team in preparation for the Corporate Management Team meeting on Wednesday and also to review our meeting with West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service and the opportunity to create a shared training and Learning & Development function. Also discussed the comments by Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, regarding council tax and our preparations for next week’s crucial Fire Authority meeting.
  • A busy day at HQ meeting with the Fire Brigade Union to discuss our draft medium term planning and the options we are considering to find savings over the next four years. These discussions are at a very early stage; then met the Treasurer to discuss the detail of our budget proposals, council tax collection rates and grant settlements for this year and next.
  • Had the pleasure of meeting two of our longer serving firefighters who will be retiring in the next few weeks. Firstly Mark Hodiak from Hove has completed nearly 32 years with East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, Mark is a vastly experienced and highly respected firefighter who embodies all you would want in a firefighter and there is no doubt he will be a loss to our Service but he has passed on much of his knowledge to younger firefighters.
  • I also saw John Message from Herstmonceux who will be retiring at the end of February after completing a quite staggering 46 years with East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service having joined in 1967! John's service to his local communities as a Retained Duty System firefighter is simply magnificent and he spoke to me about going on standby to Burgess Hill and Keymer when East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service didn't include the City area but included the Mid-Sussex district. We wish both Mark and John a long, happy and healthy retirement.
  • Short listing for my support officer role now that Mani has moved to the Borough Commander role in Wealden. Very good applications and I'm looking forward to the assessments and interviews later this week where I know we have a good group of very able applicants for the role, which will work very closely with me and be involved in local and national work.
  • Met the new Police Commander for East Sussex, Neil Honnor, to talk about his plans over the next few months, how the relationship with the new Police & Crime Commissioner is developing and the opportunities for East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service and Sussex Police to work together to make our communities safer.
  • Had discussions with the Employers secretariat of the National Joint Committee to look at potential changes we may want to consider for negotiating with the representative bodies, the challenges facing Chief Fire Officers as they seek to review how their service is delivered and possible changes to the national occupational standards.
  • Corporate Management Team  meeting where we considered new  hydraulic rescue equipment, the future of community safety initiatives including LIFE and Coaching for a Safer Community, our very successful volunteer scheme and options for the future. The Fire Authority meeting next week  and very early but important discussions on future savings options.

  • Met up with the Chairman of the Fire Authority, Cllr. Livings, at HQ to discuss his recent meeting with the Fire Minister and discussions on the future for our Maritime firefighting team. Also looked at the review Sir Ken Knight is undertaking into efficiencies in the Service and any response East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service would want to make.
Crews from Rye and Broad Oak responded to a house fire in Military Rd, Rye where on arrival they found smoke issuing from the hallway. Breathing Apparatus crews entered the building to fight the fire where sadly one male casualty was found to have been overcome by the effects of the fire and died at the scene.  

Firefighters were out over the weekend making visits to local homes, fitting smoke detectors and providing safety advice to local residents. Hove firefighters were kept busy on the night of 25th January responding to a number of deliberately started fires involving vehicles, rubbish and garden sheds. We are working with Sussex Police in the investigation of the incidents which are being treated as related and the work of the same person or persons.

Crews from Lewes responded to an incident on the A27 involving two cars, a van and a coach. Whilst it was fortunate there were no serious injuries, a large quantity of fuel had leaked onto the road surface with firefighters using environment protection packs to remove the fuel and to ensure the scene was made safe.  

Six pumps and an Aerial Ladder Platform responded to a high rise incident in White Rock Road, Hastings, where a fire had broken out on the 6th floor of a building. Incident Command established high rise procedures with firefighters in Breathing Apparatus and a thermal imaging camera using hose reels to extinguish the fire.  

On Sunday morning a property fire in Barcombe saw firefighters from Barcombe supported by crews from Lewes and Uckfield respond to a 'persons reported' call. The first crews quickly established that everyone was out of the property but they were confronted with a fire in the roof which they swiftly brought under control.  The initial investigation concluded that the part of the building where the fire had started was not fitted with smoke detectors and Crew Commander, Peter Lilley, advised local residents that working smoke detectors would provide an early warning of fire and advised local residents to fit smoke detectors or to contact East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service for advice on home safety.

Eastbourne firefighters have once again come up with a novel idea to promote community safety. Working with the town's supermarkets and the local newspaper, Eastbourne firefighters have launched a competition in Eastbourne, Seaford, Polegate, Hailsham, Westham and Pevensey called 'Operation Lifesavers' where they encourage local residents to fit smoke detectors by promoting all the benefits of safety in  home and with a host of prizes including groceries and goods from local stores.  

The competition winners will be invited for a fun day at the station where they will be treated as VIP guests - second prize is two fun days at the station! (only kidding!)