Friday, 28 June 2013

Having a bit of free time in between watching some rugby, I've been reading the international news and it is just like being at home. Front page stories about political infighting in the Government with a suggestion that there may be a leadership challenge, politicians accused of using taxpayers money for personal items, sports stars in the news for all the wrong reasons, stories about immigration and more support needed for small business. 

The TV is full of repeat American shows, cooking programmes and how to build your own house, and the newsreaders say 'fair dinkum' a lot, although I'm still not sure what it means! I know I am sometimes critical of our newspapers in the UK, but they are considerably better written and more informative than many I've seen over the past two weeks. Some I've read are on a par with the Beano for news and information.  In fact, I've come to the conclusion that our TV and newspapers aren't so bad after all, particularly the sports reports as we are often accused in the UK of being jingoistic but over here, I've read many one-eyed reports from people who must have been watching an entirely different match to me, it's as if there is a school of journalists run by Arsene Wenger! 

One significant difference over here is the mobile phone signal, it's brilliant and we've been in some out of the way one-horse towns, but everywhere you can get a signal unlike East Sussex, where I understand there is only one mast and it is switched of between 10.00pm and 8.00am.

Managed to keep up to speed with most of what has been going on and the issue of pensions will need to be resolved. The Chancellor will be announcing what is being termed the 'mini comprehensive spending review' where Government departments have to produce savings of between 8% and 10% - we will hear later this week precisely what this means for the Fire & Rescue Service and more importantly for East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS), but unfortunately what we already know is that we have to make even greater savings than we anticipated.

 I will be meeting with the Chairman to discuss the implications for the Service and to look at what options the Fire Authority want to implement.  We will be having a meeting of the nine Fire Authorities in the South East early in July to see if there are any ways in which we can work more closely together and also to look at what other Authorities are doing.  The Chairman and other new members of the Authority will be visiting fire stations and other work places to meet with staff and we have invited local Councillors to the station open days.  I have already attended some of these and they seem to get better each year with lots on show from ESFRS, particularly the demonstrations put on by crews which are always popular, and the very informative Community Fire Safety (CFS) activities and demonstrations. Our badge-making machine must have been one of our best ever investments and I'm always on the lookout for the cake stall.

My Week:

  • Even for non-rugby fans the Lions win against the Wallabies was just fantastic; real nail biting stuff that caused grown men to cry!

  • Still preparing our submission to the Select Committee that will be considering Sir Ken Knight's review. There is a lot of work needed to get behind the conclusions about reducing wholetime staff and increasing retained duty system (RDS) and also the cost per head of population which show ESFRS as a higher spending Service

  • Managed to mark a number of reports from students on the Executive Leadership Programme - some really interesting perspectives about change from the future Chief Fire Officers (CFOs).

  • Met up with a colleague that I first met at the Fire Service College, he is now an Assistant Chief responsible for hazardous material transportation in a major port and leads on wild fires (or bushfires as they are known over here). They have serious bushfires and we went out to look at how they calculate the risk which is based on the amount of leaf, bark and branches that have fallen and they measure the depth and density to give a weighted risk.

  • Liaised with representatives from KPMG who are reviewing the way Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) work to see what opportunities there are to improve our operation. We have a considerable workload including operational guidance, joint emergency services interoperability, the fire professional framework and contributing to future financial arrangements for the FRS.

  • Met up with some old colleagues who I had hosted when they visited the UK. We discussed their model for the Service which is a more integrated Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) model with paramedics and ambulances on fire stations and a greater emergency planning role. Their Services are also based on State models; this may be a way forward for the UK although theirs is a view that we should be more integrated with the Police and some are arguing that FRSs should be under the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) rather than local fire authorities.

  • Early on Thursday morning I was contacted with outline detail of the Chancellor's  spending review; not good news as the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has been hit hardest and must now make a further 10% savings. This will undoubtedly have a knock-on impact for Fire & Rescue Services and we shall see our grant from Government cut further.

I am sure you enjoyed reading Neal's contribution last week as a guest blogger; Neil outlined the work he and his team are involved in and it would be good to hear from others who want to let us know about their work. Also I would be keen to hear your views on our Service, particularly in light of the spending review, Sir Ken's report and what you think about a more integrated Fire Rescue and EMS, or working under the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) or any other views you have. The one certainty with the financial pressures and the political drive is that we will need to change, but it would be better if we were to influence and steer this change rather than have it imposed upon us by those who have the power but no real understanding of our business.

The Communications Team and Mobilising and Communications Centre (M&CC) have been keeping me updated with what has been going on.

This week crews from Bexhill responded to a road traffic collision involving two cars in Sidley, Bexhill, where four people were injured in the collision. Firefighters worked to free one person who was extricated and taken to hospital for treatment. The air ambulance was also in attendance and it is very reassuring to know that this vital service is still available across Sussex and the South East.

Firefighters from Pevensey were called out to rescue a cat that had become trapped on a second floor roof at a property in Old Town, Bexhill, with crews having to use a 12metre ladder to access the roof. 

Firefighters from Lewes and Uckfield responded to a road traffic collision on the A22 at East Hoathly, where three cars were involved in a collision with three people trapped. Crews extricated the casualties from the vehicles, who were then transferred to hospital by ambulance. 

Crews from Bohemia Road, were called to a fire in the open in St. Leonards, where they found a car well alight. Firefighters used 1:7 foam and hose reels to extinguish the blaze.

On 23rd June firefighters from Eastbourne responded to assist ambulance crews at The Arundel Hotel where two people had fallen off a wall into a basement area, both suffering severe head injuries. Firefighters worked closely with paramedics to rescue the two casualties who were taken to hospital by ambulance.

And don't forget to support our local community fire stations with their open days. This Saturday Wadhurst are holding their Open Day at  Uplands Community College; always lots of fun and well worth taking the family for a visit.  Battle are also holding their Open Day on Saturday as part of Battle Summer Fayre, at The Recreational Ground in North Trade Road; again another great day out and if you get the time. Don't forget the butchers in Battle High Street where they make some of the best sausages you will find anywhere!

Friday sees two Pass Out Parades in the County; the first is for the LIFE Course, which has been running at Eastbourne this week, funded by the local Joint Action Group (JAG) with 14 young people participating. 

The Service Training Centre will be the location for the RDS Pass Out, with ten trainees due to Pass Out during the afternoon and demonstrate their new skills.

 Also, this week we say goodbye to Corinne, who will be retiring after ten years to start a new chapter of travels around the world.  We wish her all the best and look forward to receiving blog updates on her adventures!

Congratulations also to firefighter Ben Melton who successfully completed the European triathlon competition in Alanya, Turkey, a fantastic achievement!

Finally, before you go off to the open days, make sure you get up early and do all your chores before you settle down to watch the British & Irish Lions play the Australian Wallabies; if the Lions win this match, they will win the series and it will be party time in Melbourne!

Friday, 21 June 2013

I've spent my first week on leave watching some great rugby matches with a bit of sightseeing in between, but watching rugby is why I'm on holiday. Also, I managed to find a decent gym so it couldn't be better.  With the Internet, Skype and FaceTime, it's pretty easy to keep in touch and on top of things.  The Sussex Control Project is an absolutely critical project this year and we have managed to keep this on schedule, despite one or two unexpected challenges along the way. Everyone involved, from our Project Team, Information Management Department (IMD), Estates and our Control staff in Eastbourne and Chichester continue to move this project forward, although I must say that I'm having trouble learning the new station numbers and call signs! 

I've also been keeping in touch with our Chairman, as he is now looking at the Service's priorities over the next 12 months and we will be running a seminar in July to look at any implications of the Government's recent spending review.  Having read the local newspapers, I could be back in England as they are full of stories about leadership challenges to the Prime Minister, immigration, interest rates and politicians’ expense claims.  There was also a big demonstration in the city centre about the Syrian conflict with what looks like becoming an 'unresolvable ' problem. 

Closer to home, one of the more popular destinations for British holidaymakers, Turkey, is also having some problems although the Government appear to be taking a firm line with the protesters.  Despite these big issues, my own problems seem pretty insignificant, but I can't get a decent cup of tea anywhere. Everyone seems to be hooked on 'skinny' milk, which is simply pointless; either drink your tea or coffee without milk or use a decent Jersey full fat milk. It’s the same with all these absolutely awful 'low fat spreads', they are disgusting; either use butter or nothing.  That's the one problem with all these coffee shops, some who allegedly don't pay their taxes but none know how to make a cup of tea; and they have the nerve to charge two quid to put a tea bag in hot water; scandalous and extortionate. 

My week:

Managed to answer most of my emails and keep up-to-date on Fire Authority matters, the Chairman's first meeting with the Fire Services Management Committee and the draft response we are preparing to Sir Ken Knight's Efficiency Review. There is going to be a Select Committee into the review and as a Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) Board Member, we are drafting a submission to be considered by the Committee.  

I've also got a guest blogger this week, so let me introduce Neal Robinson, Head of Community Risk Management, who wanted to give you a flavour of his week:
  • Monday 17th - Attended the Borough Commanders meeting to update on CRM issues. I introduced my team Sharon Jakeman and Chris Fry who each look after three boroughs, and provide advice and support on how to target local risks using intelligence from 'the CUBE' (a tool that analyses a mix of information, including 'Mosaic' community profiling data)

  •  Monday also saw the start of training for a small group of our Community Volunteers who will carry out 'well-being' visits. This is a new venture that will help make some of our vulnerable people safer in their homes, checking on things like risks of falling / tripping.

  • Wednesday 19th - Introduced one of the quarterly training events for the Community Safety Advisors and a small number of fire station staff.   These have proved really useful events supporting boroughs in undertaking Home Safety Visits (HSV’s). Having worked as a Borough Commander myself, I have seen the great work done by everyone involved in making our local communities safer and we are always looking to extend what we do beyond fire safety to improve community well-being.

  • Thursday 20th – Attended County Hall, Lewes for a meeting of the East Sussex Safer Communities Steering Group. I shall be representing Gary Walsh at this meeting that takes a multi-agency partnership approach to tackling community safety issues across East Sussex. In these times of diminishing budgets, sharing data, resources and funding are more crucial than ever to working toward common community safety goals such as reducing road deaths and injuries.

  • Interspersed with the above, I have to get my head down and complete two high priority pieces of work. These include preparing a report about the next steps in the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) process, and the other is to write up a self-assessment document for the forthcoming Operational Assessment - peer review challenge. I am also finishing some staff appraisals. I've always been keen on personal development, having had a specific training /development role on no less than three occasions! And as they say, if you support your staff to develop, then the organisation will grow and develop.

  • And lastly as guest blogger I will, as is custom, throw in a bit of sport. I would like to give a pre-season mention to my team Liverpool (and hope we can turnover Chelsea this forthcoming season!).
 Thanks Neal, a great piece and an insight into your work and the work of your team; if anyone else would like to contribute next week then that would be really helpful and would allow our guest to let others know a little about their role.  Well, so far I've watched two rugby matches, one win and one defeat, but this weekend is the real test, so got to get ready and ensure the voice is ready to cheer on the team!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Over the last few weeks I have been driving quite a lot across the county and taking the train to London. Whilst traffic on the roads can be a bit of a pain and the overcrowded trains are not the most comfortable form of transport, what has caused my stress levels to rise the most is the complete unreliability of the Vodafone mobile phone signal, which can only be described as less than average!  I have no idea whether Orange, Talk-Talk, O2 or others are any better but if you were offered a year’s free subscription with Vodafone or a CD of "Teach yourself Acupuncture" then go and get yourself a large bag of needles, as this will be an infinitely better experience.

The adverts on the TV portray a picture where everything always works superbly, you connect first time and the signal never drops out. Well Vodafone, come out with me for a day and whether I’m driving across the county using hands-free or on the train, I'll show you the customer experience, and believe me, it's not good!  When you look at the mobile phone companies’ websites, they claim to have about 95% coverage; well I must spend my time in the other 5%! These companies are making huge profits and yet their service is pretty unremarkable.  Our performance in the Fire & Rescue Service is considerably better and much cheaper.

Last week I mentioned that the Queen was one of the world's most respected leaders; this week we hear that one of her contemporaries, Nelson Mandela, is seriously ill in hospital.  Mandela can be assured of his place in history and I am sure in centuries to come, his will be one of the few names of 20th century that historians will look back on. I remember going to a Labour Party Conference in Brighton in 2000, when Mandela was a guest of honour and when he entered the conference hall the atmosphere was electric. It was one of those occasions which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; a truly remarkable and inspiring man.

My Week
  • Seminar at HQ with the new members of the Fire Authority to talk through their roles and responsibilities; we also agreed the arrangements for the various Panels that meet in between the full Authority meetings and which drive the day-to-day business. Membership is determined by political proportionality, so whilst the Chairman is a member of UKIP and the Vice-Chair is from the Green Party, the largest political representation on the Panels is the Conservative Party.

  • Met up with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NHS Blood & Transplant to see how we could share mentoring and coaching arrangements. The Fire Rescue Service (FRS) has also been offered a number of free places on action Learning Sets and Leadership Masterclasses, which will be extremely beneficial in supporting the development of FRS leaders.

  • Meeting with Principal Officers to discuss the tenders for the building and refurbishment of the new Sussex Control Centre. It is hoped that the costs which are shared equally with West Sussex Fire Rescue Service (WSFRS) can be agreed this week, so that the contract can be approved and a start can be made on the building.
  • Spent some time with another Fire Authority on their arrangements for the appointment of a new Chief Fire Officer (CFO). FRSs often work together on senior appointments as part of the selection processes, to share good practice and to provide professional expertise in operational command assessments.

  • Spent part of the weekend liaising with Members of the Fire Authority and preparing a briefing paper for an Urgency Panel meeting. Also discussed the current consultations on the proposed staffing arrangements for the new Sussex Control Centre with other Principal Officers and will be briefing the Fire Authority on its progress.

  • A very busy Monday at HQ with a series of meetings to catch up on training, the Sussex Resilience Forum and arrangements for joint training with police and ambulance services. A great deal of progress has been made on the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme and we have now created a common understanding of incident command arrangements to improve how we work together at major incidents

  • Discussed with the CEO of the county council, the proposals for local authorities in a particular area to pool part of their budgets in specific initiatives to improve community well-being. East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) is keen to be engaged in this work to support our work with vulnerable people.

  • Discussed the option for ESFRS to set aside a part of our reserves for joint funding sprinkler systems in high risk domestic premises. Derbyshire FRS announced earlier this year that they had agreed with their local authorities to jointly fund the installation of sprinkler systems in specific premises and our Fire Authority is keen to see whether we can do something similar in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove.

  •   Met to discuss the tenders for the building project at Haywards Heath; we hope to be able to award the contract in the next few weeks and begin the build and refurbishment for our new Sussex Control Centre.

  • Last minute catch up on emails and other correspondence after reading a report this week about how much time people spend writing and reading emails and also attending meetings. Research shows that the majority of us get annoyed by an "all persons copied in" email and also by emails from work colleagues who could simply walk across and speak rather than taking what is seen as the lazy option; it's all too easy to hit the send button. Also researchers found that many meetings had little purpose or structure; we can all do our bit in ESFRS, by only sending emails to those who need to know, speaking face to face and ensure if you are the one calling the meeting, then it is absolutely necessary and to the point, and if you attend, then you contribute.

Good luck to firefighter Ben Melton who will be competing in a European triathlon competition in Alanya, Turkey, over the weekend.  Ben has been training hard for the event and will be competing in extremely difficult conditions.

Very sad to hear that Derek Stevens who served for many years at Preston Circus, sadly passed away earlier this week after bravely battling against cancer. Derek was a very popular member of our team here in ESFRS and will be missed by his many friends and colleagues. I have sent a message of condolence to Derek's wife and family on behalf of everyone in the Service.

Firefighters from the City supported by the Technical Rescue Unit (TRU) from Lewes were called out when the roof of a Victorian house collapsed in Brighton on 10th June.  Crews quickly rescued a woman from the upper floor by ladder, and then worked for several hours to search the whole of the building in case other people were trapped.  Group Commander Richard Fowler was interviewed by BBC South East and BBC Sussex, who gave an account of the difficulties firefighters had experienced at the scene and how they had worked through the building searching for casualties. 

Four fire appliances from Roedean, Preston Circus and Hove were called to Falcon Court, after a fire started in the second floor lobby area. The Control Unit from Lewes also attended the scene with crews wearing breathing apparatus  and using hose reels to tackle the fire before leading the residents to safety.  Area Commander Mark Matthews was interviewed by BBC Sussex providing a warning to local residents of the potential fire hazard warning caused by uncollected rubbish as a result of industrial action by council refuse workers.  Mark provided advice asking local people and businesses to store rubbish responsibly, to ensure access for emergency vehicles was always maintained and that fire exits are always kept clear.

Finally an invitation to staff - I am now on annual leave and hoping to watch some rugby and therefore this blog will be briefer than usual, so would anyone like to take the opportunity to contribute as a "guest Blogger" for the 21st June and 28th June editions? If so, just email me a paragraph on what you would want to say in a blog and I will try and build a "collective guest blog" for the next two weeks.