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.