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.
- 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.