Friday, 1 March 2013

This week was the start of the Marlie Farm High Court case. The events of 3 December 2006 are still very vivid in my mind and I do have enormous sympathy with those who still bear the pain of that day and they are all very much in my thoughts.

I would once again want to pay tribute to all the staff of East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service who attended the incident and did their very best in exceptionally difficult circumstances. We know that our job sometimes puts us in a position where there is no easy answer, but we utilise our knowledge, skills and experiences and the excellent teamwork that abounds in our Service, to try and save life, to render humanitarian services and to protect other people's property and their livelihood.

Sometimes the work that our operational staff do is taken for granted, the decision making of our officers, at all levels, is 'just expected'. In this week where I am reflecting on the events of 3 December 2006, I would want to say a very personal thank you to our firefighters for the crucial and vitally important work that you do. 

Our condolences to the family of Ray Cusick from Horsham, who sadly passed away earlier this week. Ray was the inspiration behind one of this country's most iconic designs that has kept children hiding behind the settee for almost 50 years. Ray was the inspiration behind the Daleks, still the most scary 'bad boys' there has ever been and whilst Arnie may have become known as the Terminator, the Daleks were the original exterminators.

One of this country's finest eccentrics, who I have in my top ten of most inspiring people, Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been forced to give up his attempt to make the first crossing of Antarctica in winter. The legendary explorer has suffered severe frostbite whilst attempting to fix his skis with bare hands in temperatures of minus 30. West Midlands Fire Rescue Service helped the expedition to load all their equipment onto the ship bound for Antarctica and I understand the firefighters had to come up with some ingenious techniques to get the many tonnes of equipment onto the cargo deck. I'm off for a week’s skiing on Saturday and whilst I expect it to be chilly at the top of the Chamoissiere black run and the Pointe de Nyon, I don't think minus 30 is on the cards!

The latest plan from those running the economy is 'helicopter drops'. I bet you thought that quantitative easing was a little difficult to understand, but earlier this week we have the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England proposing 'negative interest rates', supposedly only for banks putting their huge reserves into the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. However, we know that they would only claw it back from us, the public, and then another bright spark no doubt, with a double first from the London School of Economics proposes 'helicopter drops' where the Treasury parachutes money to all of us to spend and therefore stimulate the economy, but they are frightened we will save it (who would do that with negative interest rates?). I think I'm in the middle of a Kafkaesque play or an extra in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!

My week:
  • Joint project board with West Sussex at Hove, discussed progress on the Sussex Control Centre, sharing training facilities and any other areas of joint working, including sharing facilities as it appears less likely that West Sussex Fire Rescue Service would want to progress a merger.

  • Met with the Director of Finance at East Sussex County Council to discuss our future arrangements for Treasury support, following the changes we will need to make when Assistant Chief Officer Williams retires in March.

  • Went up to Service Training Centre (STC) for the latest Retained Duty System (RDS ) Pass Out Parade. It was great to see ten new RDS staff who will help to ensure the availability of appliances. It was one of the coldest afternoons I can recall at Maresfield with families and friends shivering but still enjoying the display; thanks also to our hard working STC staff who do a brilliant job. It is a very busy and hectic environment at Maresfield but there is always a great buzz when you go there.

  • Held a Members’ Seminar at HQ with the Chairman speaking about the financial challenges over the next four years, that there will be a new Fire Authority in June, with up to eight new local Councillors who have not previously been on the Authority, and that they will have to deliver significant saving by 2017.

  • Went to speak at a 'people's summit' in London which was organised by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). This was an opportunity to meet with other senior leaders from across the private and public sector to look at what they are doing to meet financial challenges and also to find out their views in some of the comments from our Government Department about creating mutuals for Fire Rescue Services (FRSs) and even privatising some parts of the Service. Interesting meeting one of the senior people from the RAF who said that in the last 20 years the RAF had reduced staff numbers from 93,000 to 30,000; quite staggering considering the many theatres of operations the UK armed forces have been involved in.

  • Monthly Corporate Manager Team meeting at headquarters, our first meeting after the Fire Authority agreed our budget. We discussed the outcome of the Members’ Seminar and how we can deliver the medium term plan that the Members agreed we need to put before the new Fire Authority.

  • Had an exit interview with Iain Stewart who will be leaving us after more than seven years with East Sussex Fire Rescue Service (ESFRS). Ian served in a number of operational positions, as well as Community Fire Safety (CFS) and was the Asian Fire Service Association (AFSA) rep on their national committee, as well as contributing a great deal to supporting minority ethnic firefighters. We offer Ian our best wishes for the future.

  • Attended the Fire Service College as it was the official date of the sale to Capita; we are now working closely with the new owners to ensure that the college remains as a world leading training centre for Fire & Rescue Services and really pleasing to see the investment.

Another sad story with three people being killed with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at an incident in a caravan in Cambourne. Earlier this month another person lost their life through carbon monoxide poisoning in St Ives. This silent killer causes a significant number of deaths and injuries every year and it is one of the areas we should do all we can to improve when we are out and about on our community safety activities and when undertaking our home safety visits. We should do what we can to make every visit count when we are in the homes of local people; we all know that we can make a real difference to the safety and security of people in their homes and all ESFRS staff can play a part in making our communities safer and sustainable.

This week crews from Lewes, Hove, Barcombe, Newhaven and Preston Circus responded to a blaze at Light Brothers in Lewes. Good firefighting operations prevented the fire spreading with much of the damage contained to plant and machinery. The animal rescue team from Crowborough supported by crews from Uckfield were called to an incident in Buxted where a large steer had got stuck in a boggy field; using the rescue paths crews were able to rescue the animal.

After a spate of chimney fires, ESFRS urged those who have open fires to ensure their chimneys are swept on a regular basis. Since the start of the year we have responded to 82 chimney fires, nearly 40% more than the same period in 2012. The vast majority, if not all of these fires, are preventable and whilst they are mostly contained to the flue, there have been some extremely serious property fires that started in the chimney; householders are advised to use a reputable chimney sweep.

Now off for a week’s leave and hoping for lots of snow and some good off-piste skiing!