The new Fire Authority met for the first time yesterday with Councillor Phil Howson elected as Chairman and Councillor Sven Rufus as Vice Chair. A much changed Fire Authority who are extremely keen to start work and to look at the options for dealing with the difficult financial challenges we are facing, but very keen to get out to meet staff and visit fire stations and training centre. There are a number of open days over the next few months and I expect you will get to meet some of the new Councillors at these events.
Last weekend Forest Row and Seaford opened their doors to their local communities with two very well organised events with lots of attractions. Forest Row were supported by crews from Crowborough who brought over all the water rescue equipment along with the Water Carrier. I think Crowborough Community Fire Station have more kit than any other fire station, as they seem keen to take on lots of specialist work. I understand Matt Hitam cannot pass a river or lake without stopping to see if he has found another exercise venue or to grab a chance to go flying in a helicopter when Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ferrand (ACFO) was hoping he might be first in line! At my local station Seaford, they had displays covering every inch of the forecourt and drill yard with line rescue, and foam drills, as well as community volunteers and the chip pan demonstration unit. The firefighters were very well supported by the Coastguard, Seaford Lifeguards, the local Police and Sussex Safer Road Partnership. One fantastic attraction was organised by Darren Eaton, a firefighter at Hove, which showed the 'blind spots' around large vehicles and how cyclists are hidden from the driver’s view. This was a fantastic road safety teaching aid not only for cyclists but also for pedestrians and drivers, well done to Darren for his initiative, I certainly learned a lot.
This week marked the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; The Queen has overseen some significant changes in this country since the beginning of her reign and has become one of the most respected world leaders with a breadth of experience probably unsurpassed. The weather for the celebration at Westminster Abbey was in sharp contrast to that of early June 1953, when the heavens opened on the huge crowds thronging the streets of London trying to get a glimpse of a young Princess Elizabeth about to embark on an extraordinary journey, which even Dame Helen Mirren in her many screen and stage portrayals has never been quite able to capture!
My week :
- Had a briefing with middle managers to talk about the Fire Authority meeting and the work we will need to do with our new Councillors to support them in their role. We discussed the political changes and what this may mean, as this will be the first time for over a decade that there has not been a majority political party on the Fire Authority.
- Conference call with colleagues from a number of other Fire Rescue Services (FRSs) and Skills for Justice to look at the launch of the new Fire Professional Framework, which is an evolution of Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS) and will form the overarching framework for learning and development for staff. The 'Framework' will be accessed through the web and we are just ensuring there is simple access for every FRS.
- Drafted a report on the new governance arrangements at the Fire Service College and am now discussing who will be the FRS representatives on the College Management Board and the Customer Advisory Board.
- Attended a meeting with colleagues to look at pension issues, including the draft Amendment Order, which was expected to be published last year and should contain clauses on the definition of pensionable pay and a proposed 'pensions holiday' for those who joined the Service before the age of 20. Also, looking at proposed compensation regulations for Grey Book staff in case of any redundancies.
- Met up with the NHS senior leadership programme to support a number of NHS staff; this is part of the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange (FRS, Police, NHS, Voluntary Sector), where we collaborate and support each other to drive forward better working arrangements and efficiencies and to keep down the costs of our leadership development.
- Went to see a homeless charity and drugs rehabilitation centre to find out about the pressures they are facing in the current financial climate and talk to their Chief Executive Officer (CEOs) and their staff about the challenges they are facing. I also had the opportunity to speak to some of the people who use these vital services and gain a better understanding of how vital these services are. There are an increasing number of people in need of such specialist services and there are some lessons for how other public sector organisations, including the FRS can work with them to reduce homelessness and support those with a drug dependency.
- Listened to a presentation from Dame Helena Shovelton, a previous Chair of the Audit Commission, which discussed leadership from a personal perspective and how you need people to believe in you to enable you to gain the confidence to take risks and challenge the accepted norm. Dame Helena also talked about the need to confront poor behaviour and that there needed to be an acceptance and understanding of delivering high standards in the public sector.
- After the Fire Authority meeting we held a seminar to inform the new members of the Fire Authority of the key issues they will need to consider, how we can support their understanding of the work of ESFRS, how much we are involved with local community safety initiatives and to put together a programme of fire station visits.
- Meeting at headquarters to update our staff on the changes at the Fire Authority with the new Chairman and Vice-Chair, how staff could support the new members in their understanding of ESFRS and we also discussed the recent efficiencies review published by Sir Ken Knight and the recent notification of a trade dispute registered by the FBU about pension matters and their mandate for strike action. Whilst the trade dispute is with East Sussex Fire Authority as the employer, the FBU recognise in their letter that this is a matter that can only be resolved by Ministers.
This week firefighters from Preston Circus were called out by paramedics to assist in the rescue of a man who had fallen through a false ceiling at a property in Middle Street, the Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) crew were also called to assist and crews managed to rescue the casualty, who was taken to hospital in an air ambulance; despite the very best efforts of firefighters and medical staff, the casualty did not survive his injuries.
This week firefighters from Eastbourne will be teaming up with Sussex Police and Sussex Probation Service in an initiative known as 'Cut it Out' and aimed at re-offenders. The course will be run from Eastbourne Community Fire Station and will include a number of simulated fire and rescue exercises aimed at developing self-discipline and teamwork as well as getting the participants to confront their offending behaviours.
A four pump fire in Seaford saw crews from Searford supported by Newhaven, Lewes and Roedean respond to a severe fire that had spread externally up through the eaves, resulting in a severe roof fire. Neighbours who had spotted the fire tried to tackle the blaze with portable extinguishers but the fire was too severe and one individual had to be treated by paramedics for burns to his forehead and arms.
Late on Wednesday crews from across ESFRS responded to a major fire on the Ashdown Forest, with support from West Sussex and Kent crews. Firefighting operations were hampered by strong winds with crews using hose reels, beaters and Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) to contain the fire. The 4x4 vehicles were a real asset in ESFRS as this terrain is not suited to major pumps. The incident became a "make pumps 16" with numerous specials, including 4x4, Incident Command Unit (ICU), Water Carrier and the High Volume Pump (HVP). As always, these incidents require good operational command, communications, up-to-date information (Matt Hitam as the 'eye in the sky'), sheer hard work and a lot of sweat and effort; crews worked extremely well to restrict the damage at what is recognised as one of our finest natural heritage sites and which is home to numerous nesting birds and much flora and fauna.
A great start to a summer of fantastic sport with the British and Irish Lions having convincing wins against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and Western Australia Force in Perth. Now for the serious business with the first Test in two weeks’ time and, as the rugby team fly westwards, the Aussie cricketers will be in England for what should be a great Ashes series and along with athletics, cycling and golf, there is a something to occupy Saturdays until the football season starts and we welcome Jose back to the Bridge. I wiII have to get up early at weekends to make sure I have done all my chores so that I can enjoy the sport with a clear conscience!