Friday, 31 May 2013

This week we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first time the summit of Mount Everest was reached. Chomolungma the Nepalese name for the mountain at 29,029 ft was climbed by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the historic date of 29 May 1953, and considering the equipment and training of 60 years ago, this was a triumph of human endeavour.

However, have we been mistaken in celebrating the undoubted achievement, endurance and triumph of Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing as being the first time the summit was reached? There is still an unanswered question as to whether the 'top of the world' was first conquered in 1924 by George Mallory and Sandy Irving; what is known is that Mallory and Irvine were sighted just 800ft below the summit and still making progress, but it remains a mystery as to whether they ever reached their goal.

The achievements of the 1924 expedition were astonishing given the equipment available to them at the time and there is photographic footage of the team climbing above 25,000 ft in tweed jackets and hobnail boots. I continue to marvel at the way people push themselves to achieve goals that seem impossible, whether it is those like Mallory and Irvine, or Hillary and Tenzing, Ranulph Finnes the polar exploration or Felix Baumgartner free falling from space; but we can all push ourselves to achieve something and many of our staff have pushed themselves through charity fund raising, getting diplomas and degrees, writing a book, or playing in a band. It is surprising what you can achieve if you put your mind to it - so what is your goal this year, what do you aspire to do?

Remember, the only limitation is the one you set yourself, every one of us is capable of achieving, sometimes you just need to push yourself; this week we can reflect on the achievements of Hillary and Tenzing, this time next year, you can reflect on your achievement.  Congratulations to the Seagulls closest rivals as Crystal Palace win promotion to the Premiership for next season; a football match worth an estimated £135million to the winners with TV sponsorship and other revenue streams and having a Premiership team brings a boost to the local economy; so close this year for Brighton & Hove Albion, the Amex is a fitting stadium for Premiership football and let's hope next year they go one better.

My week

  • Attended the Asian Fire Service Association (AFSA) Conference and gave a presentation about the challenges posed by Sir Ken Knight's efficiency review and the volatility and uncertainty this creates, alongside the complexity and ambiguity this leads to for public services. This is known as the VUCA model and it allowed for a lot of debate amongst the audience. I must compliment AFSA on organising another successful conference and I was pleased to meet and talk to many of the delegates, including Raj Baksi and Mo Ahmed who were representing  ESFRS.
  • Went to the Hove Carnival and met with the crew from Stn 02 and our Community Fire Safety (CFS) staff from Hove. Raj, Dave Ivemey and Jenny Taylor are doing some great work with the many visitors who came to see them. The Mayor, Councillor Denise Cobb came across to meet the crew and had her picture taken with Watch Commander Chris Mann (the crew said he was the best looking!).
  • Had a discussion over the weekend to prepare for the Fire Authority's AGM. As I understand it, we now have all the nominations for the Fire Authority and it has been confirmed that there will be 13 new members and a new Chairman and Vice Chairman, to be decided on 6th June. We will have a programme in place for the new members to visit HQ, Service Training Centre (STC) and fire stations to meet with staff and will try and get the councillors to the various opens days this summer.
  • Went to the Fire Service College to discuss the new Board arrangements to ensure the Fire Rescue Services (FRSs) across the country are properly represented as the college starts to develop its business. There are plans to attract the police and ambulance personnel to train at the Fire Service College (FSC) and also for the hazardous industries and defence fire services to train at the site.
  • Discussed with representatives from local government, FRSs in N Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Skills for Justice how we can work together on national standards and to ensure we have consistency in training. We also considered the Rule 43 letters which are published after hearings in the Coroner's Court and may have implications for FRSs, particularly in areas of operational training.
  • Meeting at HQ with Liz Foster and Graham Gray to discuss the Peer Review we will be having for Operational Assurance. Some of our staff have been involved in Peer Review teams in other FRSs and we have learnt a great deal from speaking to colleagues who have been thorough the Peer Review process.
  • I went to a breakfast meeting at Haywards Heath with members from the Institute of Directors (IOD). This is part of my Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as a few years ago, following my annual appraisal; I undertook the Chartered Directors programme and these breakfast meetings are a useful opportunity for me to catch up with colleagues from the IOD.
  • Monthly Corporate Management Team (CMT) meeting at HQ where a main item was the budget monitoring to ensure we are managing within budget. We also reviewed the draft papers for the Fire Authority meeting.
  • Prepared an article for the Fire Magazine on the work of Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) People & Organisational Development and the work on a framework for all Services to use to support personal development, operational competence, achieving excellence and workforce planning - also continuing to develop fitness standards and reviewing the current Aspire Leadership Model.
  • Had a detailed look at our capital spend this year and our future spending priorities. We have to carefully consider our fleet and operational equipment replacement programme, the building programme to look at whether we need to replace or refurbish any of our building stock and if so, how we prioritise and how we fund any capital replacement programme. A number of projects are underway at Crowborough, Newhaven and STC and of course the new Sussex Control Centre; all these projects need to be carefully managed within budget.

This week crews from Preston Circus responded to a fire in the roof area of the Beaufort Public house, where the Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) was used to assist in firefighting operations and cutting away in the roof to expose the fire.

Firefighters from Lewes and Uckfield responded to a fire in Piltdown where a householder enjoying the good weather found that the barbecue was positioned too close to the house and had caused some damage to the property. Crews used hose reels to extinguish the fire and would like to remind people to ensure they keep the barbecue away from their property and any fencing or other materials and to ensure they keep the unit clean and free from excess oils and fats. 

Firefighters from Newhaven and Lewes were called out to a road traffic collision in Piddinghoe, where a private vehicle JD overturned with the driver trapped inside. Crews stabilised the vehicle and then freed the casualty who was transferred to hospital by paramedics from SECamb.  Lewes firefighters were quick to praise a local motorist after they were called out to a vehicle fire on the A27. On arrival firefighters found that a fire had started in the engine compartment but had been extinguished by a member of the public who had been travelling in another car and had stopped to render assistance.

Crews from Seaford and Newhaven were called out to a fire on the ground floor of a property in Seaford; firefighters we wearing breathing apparatus (BA) and using hose reels quickly extinguished the fire and then used the Positive Pressure Ventilation Fan (PPV) to clear smoke from the property. 

Crews from Preston Circus, Hove and Roedean along with the ALP responded to an incident in New England Street where initially it was believed there was a serious fire. Crews found that the cause was smoke from a woodchip boiler and they spend some time at the scene dismantling the ventilation to ensure that the fire had been extinguished. 

Our firefighters in Hastings have been working with students from William Parker School who are studying on a Public Services Course. The students took part in a road traffic education and collision demonstration, as part of their studies gaining first-hand experience of casualty extrication and learning about the 'fatal four' seatbelts, distractions, drink/drugs and speeding.

We are hoping for another warm and sunny weekend as there are Open Days at Forest Row and Seaford, everyone is welcome so bring along your family and friends to support the firefighters.  Watch Commander Dave Reed at Stn 7 will be supported by colleagues from SECamb, Sussex Police, Seaford Lifeguards, Coastguards and the local bonfire society for what will be a great community event with lots to do for everyone. Whilst at Stn 10, Watch Commander Ian Franks is keen to invite local people to see the Water Rescue team from Crowborough, the Black Museum and The Fire Fighters Charity stall, always a great attraction  and as a special treat, the refreshments will be provided by the Forest Row Brownie Pack, who are renowned for their delicious cakes, so with no football this weekend, make your way to Forest Row or Seaford.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The power of nature was demonstrated only too vividly on Monday when an enormous thunderstorm came through Iowa in the mid-west USA with a tornado devastating the suburb of Moore in Oklahoma City.  The "twister" as it is known to locals saw winds of 200 mph pick up whole buildings and trucks, as if they were pieces of paper, and on the ground, buildings were smashed to pieces.  Early reports suggested up to 100 people may have been killed but as we all know in such disasters information can change by the minute and more recent reports indicate the number being around 24.  Firefighters, led by Chief Gary Bird have been working flat out searching buildings and pulling out survivors, many who were badly injured but alive.  The areas 'emergency plan ' has been put into action but even the best made plans can sometimes struggle to cope with such widespread damage and large numbers of people seeking medical treatment. 

Whilst we are unlikely to see a tornado of such force in the UK, we continue to practice and train for major environmental disasters.  We have experienced our share of major floods in recent years and are much better prepared with our HVPs and water rescue teams. Across the country, many Services have specialist urban search and rescue teams and firefighters must continue to develop their skills in operational emergency response. I was speaking with Fire & Rescue senior officers from across Europe at a Conference in Nottingham last week where we discussed support arrangements across the EU and how we can share training and operational learning. 

We are involved in a EU wide research project looking at geo-data, which is designed to support operational commanders at the incident ground with 'real time' maps and information on the extent of any widespread incident using a system based on Google Maps and also using the data sets about populations, vulnerability and areas of risk and also historical data of where incidents occur.  We also discussed the use of technology on the incident ground and looked at an electronic BA entry control board on an iPad and extended duration breathing apparatus sets using oxygen rather than compressed air.  The future looks exciting. 

What about the present? This week we saw the publication of the report by Sir Ken Knight looking at efficiencies in the Fire & Rescue Service.  Whilst we will consider whether we will respond both locally and nationally, the review was widely reported by national news media who wanted to ask questions on the reviews findings that nearly £200m could be saved if all Fire Rescue Services (FRSs) adopted the 'best practice' of other FRSs and we increase the number of Retained Duty System (RDS) firefighters and reduced the number of wholetime firefighters.  It was pleasing to note the acknowledgement in the report that FRSs across the country had reduced fires and other emergency responses by 40% over the past decade, but it was critical that the number of firefighters had largely remained static.  

We will be considering the data and examples in the report to see how East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) compares but we do know that we are one of the more costly Authorities per head of population and whilst we have driven down our costs in a number of areas, we still have some real challenges to meet our existing savings targets.  Our new Fire Authority who meets for the first time in June will need to quickly get up to speed on the issues we face and also how they intend to respond to the conclusions in Sir Ken's efficiency review. 

This weekend in Seaford we saw a local celebrity arrive off the coast, yes Trevor the grey seal had decided that of all the places to stop and moult. It had to be Seaford; a great choice Trevor, unspoilt beaches, the wonderful cliffs and if you feel hungry a lot of fish!  Trevor has attracted hundreds of visitors to the beach and the local ice cream merchants have been out in force, never slow to spot an opportunity.  Trevor has been taking it all in his stride, waving the odd flipper but other than that just chilling out. 

And another sea going friend will be passing the south coast as it makes its way down to the Mediterranean. HMS Ark Royal the aircraft carrier that has served this country so well and once the flagship of the Royal Navy left these shores on the way to Turkey to be cut up for scrap; a sad end for a once regal emblem of our fantastic 'Senior Service'. I have a couple of friends who served on the Ark Royal in the conflict in Bosnia and I know they have many great memories of their time on the Ark which is named after Admiral Howard's 16th century battleship that put paid to the Spanish Armada.

My Week

  •  Met with colleagues from 21 other EU countries where we discussed a number of issues including fitness of firefighters, data sharing, new developments in equipment and how we could access EU funding for further pan Europe research. I gave a presentation on the working time directive and our discussion with the Commissioner and we agreed a strategy to lobby our MEPs on a number of issues that were affecting all of us.
  • Met with Principal Officers (POs) at HQ for further update on nominations to the Fire Authority. These should be confirmed later this week after the County Council's AGM and then it is expected discussions will take place between nominated Councillors on the position of Chairman and Vice Chairman. I will be briefing staff at HQ on the afternoon of 6th June following the Fire Authority's AGM and staff are invited to attend this meeting.
  • Some of our new staff from Chichester came across to HQ earlier this week to have a look around and to meet their new colleagues. These are the staff who previously worked for West Sussex in their control centre but who have now transferred to ESFRS. I have been across to Chichester to meet two of the watches and welcome them to our Service and will be meeting the other two watches and staff form the Resource Management Centre in the coming weeks.
  • Attended a meeting of the employers’ side of the NJC in London to discuss a number of issues relating to conditions of service for senior officers. One issue being explored is the scope for senior officers to work across services on an operational command rota. We already have in place arrangement for a cadre of senior officers to support command arrangement as part of the National Strategic Advisory Team with these arrangements to be reviewed.
  • Went to a meeting of external stakeholders and senior FRS colleagues to consider a number of issues relating to pensions, the FSC, leadership development, fitness and health, volunteers and the impact of the recently published efficiency review. We also discussed functional skills for firefighters and how to support developing skills in the workforce.
  • Met with external solicitors and legal advisors to be updated about the responsibilities of being a member of a Board and the strategic responsibilities and accountabilities of anyone that sits on a Board. In terms of ESFRS, then the Corporate Manager Team (CMT) would be considered as the Board and I have other responsibilities in my CFOA role.
  • Went to a meeting with representatives from Network Rail who are looking to develop a strategic command course for their senior managers to involve British Transport Police and the FRS. They are planning to run at least ten programmes over the year where they want to involve Principal Fire Rescue Service Officers to give advice and support at the scene of major rail incidents. I am now looking to see how to co-ordinate this and to build into the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for Principal Officers.
  • Attended Ashridge Management College to meet with colleagues from Police and the NHS as I am acting as a syndicate director on their senior leadership programme. We get a lot of benefit from this as the Police and NHS provide reciprocal support to the Fire Rescue Service (FRS) and a number of people from ESFRS have attended these development programmes and benefited from learning in a cross sector environment.
This week firefighters from Hastings were called out to an incident in Elphinstone Road, where a car had rolled onto its side trapping two elderly occupants in the vehicle. Crews used the stabfast to stabilise the vehicle and used hydraulic cutting equipment to  release the casualties who were immediately taken to hospital.

Drivers passing through Rye are being urged to take extra care on the roads following a number of recent serious road traffic collisions in the area.  Group Commander Paul Way is concerned that many motorists are not adhering to road safety messages and still driving whilst tired, failing to take regular rest breaks, driving at excessive speeds and not adequately maintaining vehicles, which can all lead to serious road traffic collisions. Our experiences also indicate that some drivers are not wearing seat belts and that the use of mobile phones including sending text messages whilst driving is all too common.

ESFRS are making it a priority to improve road safety and to educate drivers of some dangerous habits which can have serious and at times, fatal consequences.  Crews from Wadhurst and Crowborough were called out to a fire involving an external boiler; supported by an appliance from Kent FRS, crews had to isolate power and fuel supplies before tackling the fire. Firefighters from Bohemia Road and The Ridge were called out to a kitchen fire on the first-floor of a six-storey block of flats in St Leonards. Crews were called out after M&CC had received a number of calls from local residents, who had seen smoke issuing from the property. Crews ensured the fire was extinguished before using a Positive Pressure Ventilation Fan (PPV) to remove smoke and ventilate the property. 

Earlier this week, two pumps and the Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) from Preston Circus responded to a fire at Marine Trade Centre, involving a ground floor garage. Crews entered the property in BA, suing hose reels to extinguish the blaze, and at a fire in Holingdean.

Crews from Hove and Brighton encountered a kitchen fire where a male casualty was found to be suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation. Firefighters provided oxygen therapy to the casualty before paramedics arrived. Crews carried out a hot fire strike where they provided fire safety to neighbours and fitted smoke alarms if necessary.

Crews from Lewes have been able to arrange multiple training exercises in which they have smoke logged a property using synthetic smoke to create various realistic scenarios.   Harvard House a large three-story building in Ringmer and once a former care home but now currently stands empty awaiting demolition. After liaising with the local authorities crews have obtained licences and permission to use the building before it is knocked down.

Firefighters said that the property provides an excellent training opportunity and that they would like to be able to find more of these types of properties in the area to use in the same manner.

East Sussex Fire Authority is delighted to announce it has teamed up with South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) to install eight Automated External Defibrillators (AED), at various community fire stations across the county. These will be used in the heart of the community by members of the public, should an individual suffer a cardiac arrest and  are now located at Barcombe, Herstmonceux, The Ridge, Heathfield, Crowborough, Newhaven and Wadhurst and are in prominent positions in white boxes with AED  marked clearly in red letters. Early intervention in cardiac arrest situations provides the best chance of survival and we are proud to promote this joint initiative and are keen to look at other opportunities to provide health care support for local citizens.

I mentioned last week, the boxing match between ESFRS, the Police and the Army; what a brilliant evening and much credit goes to Greg Curl for his enterprise and determination to organise such a fantastic event.  I must also applaud those who stepped up into the ring to box, well done to all of you for your spirit and being prepared to take a smack on the nose and elsewhere for charity. I would like to particularly thank ESFRS staff (and their colleagues from West Sussex) who made up the FRS team, you put on a great show. And on continuing the charity theme, well done to Sharon Jakeman for another cake sale; the very many scrummy cakes were soon gobbled up with £150.00 being raised in a morning; we undoubtedly have a candidate for "The Great British Bake-off"!

Can I, in closing this week’s blog, express on behalf of everyone in ESFRS, our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was so brutally murdered in Woolwich earlier this week. I have today written to Drummer Rigby's Commanding Officer expressing the condolences and sympathies of all members of ESFRS and have asked these to be passed on to the family.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The outcome of the local elections is now a little clearer, as we know the political changes on the Fire Authority. Prior to 2nd May, the Authority was made up of nine Conservatives, four Liberal Democrats, three Green, and two Labour.  Following the elections, we now have seven Conservatives, three Green, three Labour, two Liberal Democrats, two UKIP and one Independent, a much changed Fire Authority.

I now also know that only five of our existing members will return to the Authority with 13 new members joining in June. This will be the biggest change of members since the Fire Authority was formed in 1997 and I will need to ensure I meet all the new members to offer support and advice in their new role.

Just seen Ashley Bango's 'Secret Street Crew', checkout the Essex firefighters from Clacton Fire Station, brilliant and it just goes to show that "big guys can dance".

I read with great interest the news this week that Angelina Jolie had made public her decision to have had a double mastectomy.  Unfortunately, breast cancer is all too common and takes the lives of many women (and men) in this country and I have experienced the tragedy this causes to families when first one of my very good friends died of this cruel disease in her mid-twenties and my brother lost his wife when she was only 29, leaving my brother with two children under five. More recently, my mother in law has also suffered from breast cancer and I have seen the tragic consequences up close; so well done Angelina for speaking out about this and hopefully women will have more confidence in coming to terms with breast cancer. I will continue to wear my pink ribbon with pride and also, to support the charities that are doing their utmost to eradicate this killer cancer.

My week:

  • Went across to Plumpton College where we had a number of our local firefighters, Community Fire Safety (CFS) advisors and community volunteers involved in the college's open day. This was quite an event with an estimated 12,000 people attending, with our staff taking the opportunity to talk about what they did, with the animal rescue team being a big attraction. A great opportunity also to get across community safety messages and we were also supporting the NHS Blood and Transplant Service, encouraging people to sign up as donors.

  • Spent a lot of time at the weekend talking with local Councillors to see if there was any information on who will be serving on the Fire Authority. Discussions are still taking place between the various political parties and we will not know until 6th June who will be elected as Chairman and Vice Chairman.

  • Had discussions with the County Council Chief Executive about our Treasury services, as the county is moving to a joint enterprise with Surrey for financial services. We would want to be a party to this arrangement and also discussed continuing working relationship with the County Council and the on-going discussions that the political parties will be having, regarding Fire Authority Members.

  • Attended a quarterly meeting with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) where we discussed a number of issues that have been progressed through the consultation processes. Also talked about the financial position and the spending review currently being carried out by the Treasury. An  update on the local government elections and the significant differences this will make to the political representation on the Fire Authority.

  • Met to discuss a report that looked at our operational incidents over the last ten years; this report was broken down by station, day of the week and time of day. Staff should be congratulated on the significant improvements ESFRS has made with a continuing downward trend in incidents at every station which is as a result of our CFS work, Automatic Fire Alarms (AFA) reduction strategy and other initiatives to make our communities safer and more sustainable. I will be able to present this to the new Fire Authority as a clear demonstration of the need to have an integrated approach to prevention, protection and response.

  • Discussed forthcoming meeting to debrief the adverse weather we experienced in March where we had heavy snow on 11th March, which brought much of the County to a standstill and also caused great pressure on SECamb and other services. This debrief will consider lessons learned and how we can respond more effectively including review our media strategy to warn and inform the public.

  • Met with Dave Hayes, the Watch Commander at Hailsham, who will be retiring later this month after completing over 30 years of service. I can’t speak highly enough about Dave and his enormous commitment to ESFRS, as Dave has been a 'full unit' providing about 140 hours cover every week. Many of our RDS staff provide fantastic cover and Dave is right at the top of the tree; with Hailsham being a very busy Retained Duty System (RDS) station. Dave is one of the most experienced Junior Officers (JOs) in the Service, attending at a large number of incidents every year due to the hours he is available; a hard act to replace. Dave has passed on his experience to his crew at Hailsham and we offer him our very best wishes for the future.

  •  Went on my level four refresher training and had to take a refresher in my knowledge of incident command (pressure to pass!) and then into the operational scenario, which was a passenger ship in dock at Newhaven with a major fire on board with 100 passengers still on the vessel. Half way into the scenario I got a message that the ship was listing and could keel over into the quayside (just waiting for the plane to crash into the dock which would have stopped the exercise!). I then had to act as level three commander at a fire at an office block and processing plant. The company processed biohazard waste with the fire in this area and then we had a radiation leak, explosion, building collapse and a hazardous cloud spreading across a town where we had to consider evacuating 15,000 people - this was a VERY good training scenario and it is an important part of incident command training to maintain competence; also attending was Andy Reynolds as all officers in ESFRS undertake this training.

  • Had a meeting with Penny Thompson, the Chief Executive of Brighton & Hove Council; this was an opportunity for myself and the Principal Officer (PO) team to meet Penny and her team to look at how we can work together, what improvements we need on data sharing, how we identify vulnerable people and to consider safety in the many houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in the City. 
This week crews from Heathfield, Mayfield and Lewes were called out to a collision between a bus and a car on the A267 near Five Ashes. Twelve passengers were trapped on the bus and working with the HEMS Doctor who triaged the casualties. Firefighters released the passengers, removing them on a stretcher through an opening that they had previously made in the rear of the bus.  A great example of joint working between ESFRS, SECamb, HEMS and Sussex Police enabled all the casualties to be released and taken to hospital. 

Firefighters responded to a large barn fire near Ringmer in the early hours of last Friday, remaining at the scene for some considerable time. Crews from Lewes, Brighton, Uckfield and Heathfield were needed to tackle the blaze with investigations on-going to establish the cause.  And around midday on Tuesday, firefighters from Preston Circus and Hove along with the TRU from Lewes were called to a flooding incident at the Royal County Sussex Hospital. The flooding was caused when work in the plant room resulted in a significant leak with patients in a number of areas having to be relocated for their own safety. Firefighters remained at the scene for some considerable time assisting with clean-up operations. 

Firefighters from Battle and The Ridge responded to a difficult rescue where a female had fallen down a well shaft at a property in Battle. Crews using specialist line rescue equipment stabilised the casualty who had fallen approximately 25 feet and then working with colleagues from SECamb, recovered the casualty who was taken to hospital for treatment. Strong winds during Tuesday night in Brighton caused to a large fascia board to hang dangerously over the front of a busy bar in the City; firefighters from Roedean worked in gusting winds to cut down the board and make the area safe.

I have received some sad news regarding retired members of staff, with Alfred Ernest Brittan, a previous Station Commander at Hastings and Michael Ball, who served in the RDS at Bexhill, both passing away in recent days. Alfred and Michael were both loyal members of our staff and great servants to their local communities and we offer our condolences and sympathies to their families and friends.

After the glorious run of the last few weeks which saw the Albion get into the play-off places, they couldn't find that little bit extra to get into the play-off final for what would have been a great day out at Wembley, and I understand from speaking to Brighton fans that it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you get beaten by Crystal Palace; but don't worry, they will lose to Watford in the final and you can get your revenge next season, although will Gus be there, that's the big question!

Don't forget Saturday evening there is a charity boxing match taking place at the Metropole Hotel, where some of the "finest" in East Sussex will be pitting their pugilistic skills against opponents from the Army and Police. Then at HQ on Wednesday, Sharon Jakeman will be bringing in some wonderful, scrumptious, hip hugging cakes, (yummy yummy!) for you to buy with all monies raised going to a wonderful charity that works with sick and disabled children, so treat yourself and give generously.

Finally, yes they have done it again, Chelsea are European Champions having won the Europa Cup after a devastating display against Benfica on Wednesday evening; once again, Chelsea blaze a trail in Europe that others can only dream about; Blue is the only Colour!

Friday, 10 May 2013

The last seven days have been one of the more interesting times I have experienced as a Chief Fire Officer, following last week’s local government elections. The result of local democracy in action was that our previous Chairman, John Livings, and our previous Vice Chairman, Paul Sparks, lost their seats on the East Sussex County Council and their positions on the Fire Authority.  With Roger Thomas and Martin Kenward also losing their seats and Joy Waite, Terry Fawthrop, Beryl Healy, Pat Ost and Caroline Heaps all standing down, that will mean there will be many changes to the Fire Authority.

Another impact was Cllr Howson standing for UKIP and Cllrs Pigeon and Duncan from Brighton and Hove not standing again will mean that at our AGM on 6th June, there will be at least 12 new members which will be the biggest single change, since we formed our 'Shadow Authority' in 1996.  At this time, I have no idea who will be nominated for the Fire Authority and who will be standing for Chairman or Vice Chairman, so it is a time of great turbulence and uncertainty. 

I have spoken with a number of the councillors, who lost their seats, and they all wanted to say how privileged they had been to represent ESFRS and that they had all enjoyed their time working with our Service and seeing the great work you all do.  Some also said that of all the jobs they had done in local politics, the most rewarding was with the Fire Authority.  John Livings still retained a sense of humour, despite his disappointment, reminding me that it was unfortunate to lose one Chairman when Mike Murphy lost his seat in 2009 and that it was downright careless to lose a second Chairman when Ted Kemble lost his seat in 2011, but it was unprecedented to lose a third Chairman, as was now the case and it was a hat-trick that I must confess I will certainly not boast about!  The new Fire Authority will face significant challenges when they come into office next month, as the majority will not be familiar with the current financial position, which as we all know is not brilliant. 

Recent discussions with Treasury officials in London have not helped with more pressure being put on Government Departments to make a further 10% of savings, which is an increase from the original 8% that was discussed earlier this year.   We are currently working on plans to talk to the new Authority and I am sure the new members will want to get out and about to meet staff and find out about our work and how well we are integrated into community safety, risk reduction and working with other agencies.  

It was great to see the 'Bevin Boys' gain recognition for their major contribution to the Second World War, when a memorial was unveiled in their honour at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire.  Around 48,000 young men were conscripted to work in the mines as the country desperately needed coal to support the war effort. Many were treated badly and considered to be conscientious objectors when most had volunteered to fight but were given no choice but to work down the mines. The brainchild of Britain's Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin, they worked in difficult conditions and with no recognition of their contribution to the Second World War. It was only in 2008 that they were given a badge, instead of a campaign medal, but at long last they now have a national memorial which will be a reminder to future generation of the sacrifices made by the 'Bevin Boys'.

It would be remiss of me this week if I didn't acknowledge the retirement of one of football’s iconic figures, Sir Alex Ferguson, who deserves much credit for his tenacity, determination, focus, leadership and what may be seen as a degree of ruthlessness in remaining at the helm of one of the biggest sports clubs in the world for over 26 years.  There is much to admire about an individual who has delivered success in one of the most competitive of environments and who instilled in his players a 'never give up attitude', best exemplified in their European Cup triumph over Bayern Munich in 1999.

Please note, this doesn't mean I've gone soft on the football club he managed, along with Liverpool and Arsenal they remain firmly in that group, disliked by the majority of football fans due to their arrogant (but unjustified) belief that they are better than everyone else, their sense of superiority and their complete lack of any sense of humour, but credit to the 'hairdryer' as he has earned our respect.

My week:

  • Spent most of the weekend speaking to councillors and ex-councillors to try and see if there was any clarity on the future make-up of the Fire Authority, which parties would be represented and what options there would be for the Chairman and Vice Chairman roles, as no single party would have a majority - whilst this is clearly a matter for local politicians. It was important for me to get some understanding of the situation, as I do not currently have a Chairman or Vice Chairman to liaise with, and only have five councillors from Brighton & Hove who are nominated as Fire Authority members

  • Prepared a draft for the submission by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) to the Treasury which looks at our national resilience responsibilities, the impact of future changes to employers national insurance, capital grant allocations for new buildings and fire appliances and future council tax increase.

  • Spoke at the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange, which is running this week at the Fire Service College, bringing together Senior Leaders from Fire, Police, Health and other parts of local government. I discussed a recent research report in the Harvard Business Review that talked about the need for public service leaders to be able to work across different sectors, to understand the different positions of others, how to build networks to gain benefits and to be conscious of different cultures.

  • I met with the new senior management team at the Fire Service College to look at the opportunities to expand business in other areas, including the risk critical industry, transport and other blue light services. Also looking at overseas markets and how to attract this business to the college - investment is being made in the incident ground, teaching facilities and student accommodation which should see significant improvements over the next 18 months.

  • Spoke at a conference about the changes to the Service in the UK, including structural reform, local and national government pressures and the options for private sector involvement in Fire & Rescue Services. Also listened to a presentation made by the Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor on how the Government believe savings could be made and how Services should learn from best practice and what others are doing - now awaiting the publication to the report by Sir Ken Knight on efficiencies and what expectations there are of changes to be made to the FRS across England.

  • Met with Lancaster University to discuss social media and how the Service can use all new communication opportunities and social media platforms to improve community safety. Our Communications team have been liaising with other organisations to look at how we can use social media to inform the public as part of our broader communication strategy.
Crews from Rye, Battle, and Hastings, along with the Technical Rescue Unit (TRU) were called out to a road traffic collision (RTC), where a private car was in collision with a lorry on the A259 Winchelsea Road. The road was closed in both directions for some time whilst firefighters worked to free a female occupant of the car who was trapped in the wreckage, but despite the best efforts of the crews, the casualty was confirmed as fatally injured at the scene.

Newhaven crews responded to a property fire in Peacehaven during the early hours of Wednesday, where they found a fire on the ground floor of the premises. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus (BA) and using hose reels managed to extinguish the blaze before it spread beyond the ground floor and then fire investigators working with Scenes of Crime Officers attended the incident as early indications were that the fire had been started deliberately. 

A spate of calls to incidents involving animals were called out to rescue a sheep that had become trapped in a stream near Ripe, and crews from Battle and Crowborough called out to rescue a cow that had become trapped in a metal grating on a farm in Ninfield, firefighters used hydraulic cutting equipment to free the animal. Pevensey firefighters, along with the animal rescue team from Crowborough, were called out to a horse stuck in a ditch in Eastbourne and a call to cat on a roof in Hastings was passed to the RSPCA for them to deal with.

A major fire in Brighton involving the first floor and roof of premises in Cumberland Road was responded to with five pumps. Firefighters worked in difficult conditions in the roof space with the Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) being used to remove roof tiles to gain better access, a good stop.  This week, firefighters across the Service have been working with our community safety teams and volunteers to promote "National Road Safety Week". Around 1,400 children under the age of 11 are killed or seriously injured every year on Britain's roads with more than 26,000 pedestrians hurt in accidents on our roads.  

Our activities include working to advise younger drivers of the dangers of being distracted and the need to take extra care when in built-up areas particularly near to schools and of always observing speed limits.  Our road safety teams do fantastic work promoting safe driving, so always wear a seat belt and never to text or use a phone when driving, unless it properly installed as hands free.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The terrible news from the Bangladesh capital Dhaka that a building had collapsed with more than 380 people killed and many still missing was not the result of some natural disaster, which is sadly all too familiar in that region, but the result of a poorly constructed building with little regard for building codes and no adequate maintenance programme to ensure the structure remained safe for people to work in.  It would be very easy to criticise the local authorities who allowed the building to be occupied and used as a workplace until we hear that the majority of the people working in the building were making clothes for those in the Western world, including UK consumers who demand low prices on the high street. 

Do we bear any responsibility for the awful conditions many workers in the emerging economies have to endure or do we see ourselves as helping to create jobs in India, China and other Asian countries.  Many of us will console ourselves with the 'Fair Trade' items we buy and there are also factories in Asia and the Far East with good working conditions for their employees.  There  will also be some UK consumers who themselves are enduring financial hardship where every penny counts, but looking at the media reports from Dhaka only served to illustrate the awful 'workhouse' conditions in a factory making clothing to sell in the UK high street.  The emergency services did their very best to respond to an awful scene and local people put themselves at huge risk making numerous attempts to climb into the dangerous structure to try and rescue trapped people; the UK Urban Search & Rescue Team were on standby to fly across to assist but were not required. 

It looks like the best entertainment this summer will be a real challenge for sporting loyalties as Welsh boyo Chris Robshaw was announced as the captain for the British Lions tour to Australia. This is a 'must watch' festival of sport at the highest level and even if you're not a rugby fan give it a go and watch the best players from Britain and Ireland take on the Aussies in their back yard - it will be tough, bone crunching,  backs to the wall stuff, but will be a fantastic spectacle and I'm sure you will become an avid fan - and along with the Ashes Series against the Aussie cricket team it will make for a great summer while we wait for the football season to kick off in August.

Great story from Belfast about a woman driver who had a wee bit of difficulty in parking her car - we shouldn't laugh (but we will) because we've all been there but unfortunately this was captured on video and put on YouTube. With modern social media we all need to be on our guard as next time it could be you! 

This Wednesday I could have put my experiences on the Gatwick Express on social media (a completely misnamed train which should more rightly be called the Gatwick Snail, as an Express it most certainly is not).

I was due to attend an important meeting in London so left bright and early to drive to Gatwick as despite the slow service, there are usually plenty of trains going to Victoria.  Boarding the 09.05 we left Gatwick on time and got about two miles out of the station when the driver Dave (that's a good solid name for a train driver, dependable) anyway Dave announced that there was a problem with the train and he had to stop to rectify said problem.  About ten minutes later, good old Dave updated us by saying the problem was a little more serious and he was awaiting advice from his Control. Mild panic from some passengers who started to moan a little but generally remained good humoured until Dave came back on the tannoy after about 30 minutes to announce the train was 'jacobed' and that his control were trying to get a diesel engine down to where we were to 'tow' our train to Redhill.  The result was that a few Mr and Mrs Grumpies started to complain about the awful treatment and as the engine was kaput there was no power and it was getting quite hot and that Dave had better do something.  Poor old Dave, he was very chatty keeping us all updated and in 20 years this was the first time one of his trains had broken down.  Anyway after 3 hours stuck just outside Gatwick a rescue train finally arrived and towed us to Redhill, where we eventually got on a train to Victoria arriving nearly four hours late.  As I'd missed my meeting I went and got a cup of tea, got on the Gatwick 'snail' to return and settled into my seat (I didn't get a seat on the outward journey so had to stand for four hours) only for the train driver to announce that the train had developed a fault and we would all have to get off and find another train heading south. The joys of public transport, but fair play to Dave, a most cheerful chappie and I hope it’s another 20 years before your train breaks down again!

My Week
  •  Went to Cheltenham to the national L&D Conference and gave a presentation on national issues including occupational standards, leadership, literacy and numeracy, pensions and the future of examinations. This was a well-attended conference with delegates from across the country including ESFRS.
  •  Had a meeting with colleagues to discuss national health and safety matters, competency of staff and work on interoperability with other emergency services.
  • Went to a retirement function for John Message, Officer in Charge (OIC) Stn 24, who joined the old East Sussex Fire Brigade in 1967, who has retired after 46 years’ service. There was a great turn out from many friends and colleagues at a function in the lovely surroundings of Herstmonceux Castle, with John's retirement speech keeping everyone entertained!
  •  Drafted report for discussions with Treasury officials on future funding and as part of CFOAs contribution to the mini spending review now being undertaken. The headline is that the Treasury are still seeking further savings from Government Departments, which may be as much as another ten per cent.
  • Met with mobilising West Sussex staff in Chichester, as they transferred to ESFRS on 1st May. We now have a Section 16 agreement with WSFRS to provide their mobilising function, although we will still use the two sites at Eastbourne and Chichester until the new Sussex Control Centre opens in 2014.
  • CMT meeting at HQ where we received a presentation on future options for IT including expanding the  use of mobile devices, better integration of our existing systems and how we can drive efficiencies and make savings in the future. Borough Commanders presented the yearly performance figures and discussed Station Audits, and exercises planned for this year.
  •  Received the final report following the firefighter fitness assessments at the Fire Service College mentioned last week. Only one member of ESFRS was involved although many firefighters from across the country attended and the researchers from the University of Bath are now going through all the data gathered to ascertain the relaxant VO2 max for a variety of operational tasks.
  • Spoke with our Monitoring Officer about the meeting I had missed to catch up on a series of legal briefings regarding Marlie Farm. We continue to await the Judge's decision following the Court Hearing earlier this year although we have been told that it may take some time for the Judge to deliver his findings.
  • Local elections on Thursday with significant implications for the Fire Authority as we will have a minimum of eight new members, and possibly more, due to people either standing down, moving to other roles on the council or not being re-elected. At the AGM in June the Authority will elect a new Chairman and Vice-Chairman, so much work to do.

More than 30 firefighters were called out to a serious house fire in Crowborough with crews from Crowborough, Uckfield, Mayfield, Wadhurst and Lewes responding along with the ALP from Eastbourne. Firefighters fought the blaze at the same time as searching for people thought to be in the property. The first responding crews found the fire already coming through the roof and working under difficult conditions within the roof space, contained and extinguished the fire. 

Crews from Battle were called out to an incident on the A21 where a car had left the road and collided with a tree. Firefighters found one male trapped in the wreckage and working with paramedics managed to free the casualty but despite the best efforts of firefighters and paramedics the casualty passed away at the scene.  The animal rescue unit from Crowborough was called out to rescue a sheep that had become trapped in the river near Seddlescombe, and working with crews from Battle managed to rescue the animal. 

Crews from Hastings and the east of the county took part in a high rise exercise on the 7th floor of Marine Court; the exercise co-ordinated by Crew Commander Graham Geer provided an excellent opportunity for firefighters to test the high rise procedures and their own knowledge and skills at such incidents. Sussex Police were also involved closing roads and advising the public with the building being smoke logged and five casualties being rescued. 

Did you catch Dan Channon on Sovereign FM earlier this week? Dan spoke about how Eastbourne is a safer place in which to live, work and visit due to the focus of local crews, the community safety team and fire safety officers on making local homes and businesses safer from fire.  The Eastbourne team are also doing a lot of work on road safety and engaging with vulnerable people as part of their continuing drive to work with and support their local communities.  Justin Godchild from the Arson & Incident Reduction Team will also be on the radio talking about 'Road Safety Week' which takes place from 6th - 12th May and the initiatives crews are taking across the County and the City to promote road safety.

A nice story from Rock Lane, in Westfield, where firefighters from The Ridge we recalled out to an incident where an elderly lady had become stuck on a chairlift.  The crew helped to free the lady and then made her a cup of tea before leaving. Brilliant customer care and what we have come to expect of our staff.  And finally, a hello to our new staff from West Sussex, CMC and RMC staff who formally transferred from WSFRS to ESFRS to become part of our team. They will continue to work from their Chichester base until we move to the new Sussex Control Centre in Haywards Heath, but we warmly welcome all of you to ESFRS. 

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service