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