Friday, 15 February 2013

This is an astonishing week, with the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he was to step down as the head of the Catholic Church, the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion followers of the Catholic faith.

I come from a Catholic family and I know my mum, in particular, will be very sad to have heard the news. I was in Dublin when the announcement was made and you could sense the shock, particularly in such an important week in the Catholic calendar.

Also, Tuesday is always one of my favourite days as it was 'Pancake Day', the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. This is a traditional time for 40 days of fasting before Easter, so this is a good time if you want to lose a bit of weight, as you give up something you really like. That's why we celebrate 'Pancake Day' or Mardi Gras which, as you know, is 'Fat Tuesday' in French and a time when you have traditionally rich foods such as eggs, flour, milk, butter and sugar (pancakes) before your 40 days of fasting. My favourite pancakes always have coconut, raspberry jam and lemon juice as the filling, really yummy, but unfortunately I was away at the Fire Service College and they didn't seem to realise how disappointed I was not to get my pancakes!

This week marks the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, carried out by Allied Forces. Whilst the rationale for the raid is considered contentious by some, there was a graphic account on the radio this week of the bombing by Victor Gregg, a British soldier who was a prisoner of war in Dresden at the time. He managed to escape his cell but then found himself caught, as the bombs dropped and the firestorm, that was a consequence of the incendiary bombs, caused the city to be engulfed in fire.

Victor gave a personal account that can only be described as moving and horrific; for the German firefighters this was an incident on an unimaginable scale. Their bravery and determination to try and help in an Apocalyptic situation will hopefully never have to be repeated. However, it is crucial we train and prepare for wide scale civil emergencies and during the last few years, there have been events across the globe that have severely tested the response capability of emergency services.

There was an announcement this week, which may soon have an impact in the way we run our emergency services. Northamptonshire Fire Rescue Service (FRS) have announced that they will be sharing headquarters and workshops with Northants Police, who are looking to work more closely and are working towards the FRS coming under the responsibility of the Police & Crime Commissioner. Is this a model that will soon be rolled out to other Services?

My week:

  • Part of a panel to assess the syndicate presentations at the NHS leadership programme; students have been working over the last four months on a strategic NHS issue and were asked to make recommendations for implementation. This leadership programme is based upon the FRS Executive Leadership Programme and will help to develop future leaders in the public service, whilst looking at how we can collaborate to improve training and reduce costs.

  • I had a weekend away in Dublin to watch the rugby. It was a great weekend with a hard fought win over Ireland and then a good night out, meeting up with Mike Teague and Roger Uttley, two ex- British Lions. I heard some 'touring' stories over a meal with the bonus that Sean Fitzpartrick, the recently retired All Blacks captain, came over and joined us for a chat!

  • Meeting with colleagues to consider changes to conditions of service for senior managers, our draft response to the 'Efficiencies Review' being undertaken by Sir Ken Knight, what benefits there would be from sharing managers and moving the FRS from the local authority to a mutual. This seems popular with central government but amongst senior officers, we are not convinced this will deliver benefits or a better service.

  • I went to see the Executive Leadership Programme students at the Fire Service College, who are now in their second module. They were at an evening session where Pete Bungard, Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council, talked about financial pressures, the need for leaders to be self-aware, and the complexities of leading in austerity.

  • Spoke with the Chairman following last week’s budget setting Fire Authority meeting; we are now preparing for a Members seminar at the end of the month, where the Fire Authority will look to give direction as to how they will make savings over the next four years.

  • I have been working with our staff to prepare for the Local Government Association Conference in Brighton next month. Delegates from across the country will be at the Hilton Metropole Hotel and we will have a stand promoting our community safety initiatives, our volunteer scheme innovations and our operational training.

  • Discussed with the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) a number of secondment opportunities for operational staff. We are currently undertaking a review of incident command and would want to, where we can, provide development opportunities for officers. Firstly, we must ensure we have the right numbers of competent staff for our own needs and to support the national resilience programme

  • Just listened to an interesting presentation from Matt Wrack, Lord Michael Bichard and Andrew Haldenby the Director of Reform. They talked about the public sector spending cuts, the impact right across the public sector and how the fire & rescue service can respond to the undoubted challenges.

  • I had the opportunity to present at the same conference (thanks to Matt for putting my presentation together, I couldn't do my job without the support from Matt and Sue). I updated the audience on pensions, the launch of the 'Firefighters Performance Framework', the work with Capita, as the new owners of the Fire Service College, and how we can develop and accredit courses and the project we are involved in with Bath University on fitness standards. 

Firefighters from Crowborough worked with the swift water rescue team from Kent Fire Rescue Service (FRS) at an animal rescue incident in Laddingford, where a horse was in a fast flowing river. Crews managed to secure a head collar around the animal, which was sedated by a vet and then using the winch, pulled the horse out of the river.

Firefighters from Lewes Community Fire Station, supported by the Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) from Preston Circus, responded to a chimney fire in Lewes. Crews quickly extinguished the fire, although there were concerns about the stability of the chimney. Once again, householders with open fires are reminded to ensure that their chimney is swept regularly and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) has information on its website about safety with open fires.

Crews from Lewes, supported by Barcombe, were called out at breakfast time on Tuesday morning, to a fire in a bathroom at a property in the town centre. Firefighters quickly established the cause, which was due to an overheated electrical fitting and undertook an immediate home safety check. Our firefighters continue to promote home safety and we want to increase the number of home safety visits we undertake, as we are determined to reduce the number of fires in the home.  We firmly believe that prevention is absolutely vital to reduce the personal and social costs of fire to ensure our communities remain safe and sustainable.

Crews from Bohemia Road, The Ridge, Bexhill and Battle responded to an incident in Hastings where a fire was reported in a derelict building of four floors, with persons reported. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus (BA) encountered a fire on the top floor, which they extinguished using hose reels, with no casualties as a result of the fire.

 Well done to Eastbourne firefighters and Argos who have joined in an initiative to provide kitchen timers to local vulnerable people. There have been a number of incidents where cooking has been left unattended and has caused a fire, sometimes with serious consequences. Borough Commander Dave Shepherd, who launched the initiative with Sarah Hayler from Argos, said: "We are delighted to have the support of Argos in helping to prevent fires in the home”.  Sarah added: "Argos take their responsibilities for community and social responsibility very seriously and are delighted to be involved in this project with Eastbourne firefighters".

As I mentioned earlier, this was a big week to remember, Pancake Day, Ash Wednesday and then 14th February. I hope you didn't forget Valentine's Day! I understand this can be a big mistake; otherwise you spend the next few days regretting you didn't use Moonpig!