Friday, 30 August 2013

Chief's blog 30 August 2013

In a week when we have had great Bank Holiday weekend, where the England Cricket Team celebrate their Ashes win and the football season starts to take shape, you can sometimes lose sight of the realities of our world and on Tuesday it was depressing to hear that Parliament was being recalled to discuss the crisis in Syria.

As someone who has lived all his life in the safety and comfort of the United Kingdom, the lives of many millions of people across our globe continue to be blighted by war, famine and dictatorship.  We are a very liberal country and enjoy freedoms much of the world can only dream of; but what can we and should we do when we see what is going on in other parts of the world such as the undoubted atrocities that are taking place in Syria.  Of course, not everything is right in so called 'Western democracies', but sometimes we lose focus and get wrapped up in our own perspective.  I do not envy our Parliament as they face the dilemma of what to do next following Thursday’s MPs vote against military action. We often criticise our politicians and whatever their actions, it will have lasting consequences and will probably divide opinion; I just hope they have all the information needed and are guided by the principles of fairness and justice. The weight of democratic freedoms weighs heavily on their shoulders. 

You will also have heard this week that our Insurers are to appeal the recent High Court decision in the Marlie Farm case, and you will also have seen our press release. I will not dwell any more on this apart from saying my thoughts are very much with Lesley Wembridge and Heather Wicker and their families, as well as those who were injured in the explosion and I hope everything is done to resolve the matter as soon as possible. 

I have also just heard about the result of the Fire Brigades Union ballot for national strike action. No dates have been announced by the FBU. I hope this matter is swiftly resolved, but now have to focus on preparing for every eventuality. I want to reassure you that we have plans in place to keep communities in East Sussex and in Brighton and Hove safe should there be any industrial action.

This week was also the 50th anniversary of one of the most important civil rights speeches of the 20th century when Dr Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C and addressed a crowd estimated to be over 250,000.  The address which will be forever known for the very poignant lines - "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character", is particularly relevant in a world where at times there appears to as much inequality and oppression as when Dr. King stood up and delivered an address that should inspire us today to continue his ambitions for fairness and equality for all.

My week:

*. meeting at HQ with a team from Greater Manchester FRS who were visiting a number of our staff who had been closely involved in the Marlie Farm investigation; sadly, GMCFRS lost one of their team, Firefighter Stephen Hunt at a fire in the City Centre a few weeks ago and we have offered to support them as much as we are able - Firefighter Hunt's funeral is next week and ACO Cheryl Rolph along with Neil Walter and Andrew Petch will be attending to pay our respects; our thoughts will be with FF Hunt's family.

* an afternoon in the office catching up with our financial services provider, briefing a group of our politicians on contingency planning arrangements and a telephone conference with a senior officer from another Fire Rescue Service on pension and conditions of service matters; I am keen to cut down travelling by using telephone or video conference and would encourage the use of Skype; I am sure many of us use this or apps like FaceTime in our personal lives and I believe we need to use this technology much more at work as I believe it will deliver business benefits and save money

*. went to Preston Circus Open Day where despite the early morning downpour, the local community were out in force and having a great time; well done to Blue Watch and other staff including the crew from Roedean, who helped out at what was a very busy and entertaining Open Day; good to see Ff Dean Clarke 'overacting' when giving the demonstration in the ALP which the kids loved!!!

*. Burwash firefighters were at the local fete and I went across to see them taking part in one of the highlights of the local village activities during the year; ever popular with everyone who attended. Dave Helmsley and his crew were providing safety advice and also talking to local people about joining the Burwash fighters; Dave and his crew supported by Greg Lee have have put together a fantastic local letter with personal testimonies from crew members about why they joined the RDS; a really excellent local station initiative

*. after Burwash, next stop Heathfield where the station open day coincided with the French market; loads of visitors to the station all day long and the crews put on some great displays culminating in a ladder and pump demo with rescues from the tower and main jets; I noticed however one member of the crew who looked a little out of place and who seemed to want to take over even though he was No. 6, and his control of the main jet was in danger of soaking the rest of the crew!!!  I am sure the OIC will soon sort him out!!!

*. monthly CMT meeting where much of the focus was on the budget and the Sussex Control Project; we also discussed our Corporate Risk Register and contingency plans

*. meeting with the Chairman to catch up on business and to prepare for the Policy & Resources Panel meeting

*. had a meeting with the Fire Authority Group Leaders representing UKIP, Green Party, Conservative, Lib Dems, Labour and Independents where we discussed the authority's approach to strategic planning and their medium term plan; we discussed future direction setting and key outcomes for the authority as well as how they wanted to approach our savings target over the next 5 years and more immediately, how they wanted to deal with any industrial action and the agreed contingency plans

* discussion with the Chief Constable on a range of issues; Sussex Police have had a focus on the fracking demonstrations at Balcombe which have diverted a lot of resources to ensure that demonstrators have the right to lawfully demonstrate whilst keeping the local roads open, maintaining public order and also allowing legitimate businesses to continue their activities; the Chief Constable and his officers have a very difficult balancing act to maintain and I have to say that in my view they are doing an excellent job

This week crews from Bexhill were called to a serious fire at a property in Windsor Road where fire had spread into the roof; supporting pumps from Hastings, The Ridge and Pevensey attended along with the Control Unit from Lewes with firefighters in BA using hosereel jets and CAFS to put out the blaze.  Crews from Crowborough were called out to an incident where a private car came off the road and ran into a fence, with one person trapped; crews worked alongside SECAmb colleagues to free the casualty who was then taken to hospital. 

Firefighters from Bexhill also attended a fatal RTC at Holliers Hill in Bexhill and were able to release a casualty from a car with a further 2 people being treated by ambulance crews at the scene. 

The warm weather continues to see ESFRS responding to fires in the open with firefighters from Battle being called out to a gorse fire along the A21 near Seddlescombe, where crews uses hose reel jets and beaters to bring the fire under control.

This weekend will see the penultimate Open Day of the summer when Bexhill invite the local community to visit their station; the firefighters plan lots of activities and will have CFS staff and volunteers supporting the event; everyone is invited to what should be a fabulous day out.

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service

Friday, 23 August 2013

23 August 2013

I managed to see a bit of Eastbourne Airbourne on Friday, a bonus of our HQ building is the great view we get of the planes flying overhead and as always, I was mightily impressed by the Red Arrows. These pilots are simply the best and I just had the vision of Top Gun where Maverick and Iceman are hurtling through the skies in their F14s, in what must be most peoples’ dream but only a very few ever get close.  But the Red Arrow pilots live that dream and they are just magnificent with split second precision and timing and certainly thrilled the crowds; blue sunny skies over Eastbourne with the Red Arrows screaming overhead, what a cool way to spend your afternoon tea-break!  As for Tom Cruise, he definitely gets some great movie roles and does a lot of his own stunts, apart from flying an F14. 

But whilst Tom Cruise thinks flying is fun, he should come down and spend a day with White Watch at Preston Circus; their Watch Commander Richard Chamberlain invited me to spend a day with the watch as a firefighter. I rode the Echo pump as No5; met up with Hannah and Murray, the members of our crew and after checking our Breathing Apparatus (BA) sets, all the equipment and then a crash course in how to operate the main pump and how to get the Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) to work, there was no time for a quick cup of tea as it was straight into fitness assessments and under the watchful eye of Ben, we had to take the treadmill test.  The other crew members all passed with ease, so no pressure on me as I took my turn; fortunately I managed to pass although there was quite a bit of sweat and hard breathing!!!

The first shout of the day with the Whiskey responding to an AFA, and then time for a quick cuppa before a BA exercise; great fun but also served as a good reminder just what our firefighters do every day; another shout with the Whiskey and aerial ladder platform (ALP) called out to a Make 3 with Hove and then lunch; there are some good cooks on fire stations with a cracking, healthy meal!!! Another shout, this time the Echo went to a lock out and then a home safety visit to a care home; back to the station for a debrief and I have to say it was a very worthwhile experience for me to get out and work with a watch for a day. 

But outside work I am overjoyed that the football season is back and I have a real purpose for my weekends! But I am really concerned that with only one game played, tensions and stresses are already evident amongst our staff (well Arsenal supporters); I met Steve Brown our procurement manager on Monday morning and he didn't look well as it’s all doom and gloom at the Emirates Stadium. Can I ask you to sensitively try and find out if there are any Gooners fans on your fire stations or departments and keep an eye out for them as part of our colleague support, they will need a lot of TLC over the coming months, despite one good night in Turkey!!! 

Good luck to all those teenagers who got their GSCE results on Thursday; the older generation are always going on about how "exams were harder in our day", but I don't think that's the case. I have seen many young people in schools and universities and I know they put in a huge amount of work to get top results, so give them credit for their achievements and well done to all of those who have achieved in their GSCEs and good luck for the future.

Not so good news following a report this week, that one of our most famous resorts, Hastings is the fourth most deprived coastal town in the country behind Skegness, Blackpool and Clacton. The ONS report discussed how seaside towns have suffered from a lack of investment, ageing populations and cheap foreign travel; a pity they didn't look at the fish and chips because you can get some of the best in the country in Hastings and the Old Town is pretty cool and trendy with some great little cafes and bars.  We have the best fire station security system in the country at Bohemia Road as well as some of the finest countryside down towards Fairlight.  Hastings was a regular summer visit for me and my son Ben when he was younger where we went on the funicular railway, played around in the country park and visited Rock a Nore.  Now with the Jerwood Gallery and the pier due to be restored to its former glory, the town has much to look forward to.

My week

*. went to visit the new Sussex Control Centre in Haywards Heath and was very impressed with how the building work is coming along. This should be a really good facility with plenty of space for our mobilising staff, as well as having a major incident room and some shared facilities with the firefighters; Haywards Heath was originally Station 16 in the pre-1974 East Sussex Fire Brigade so in many ways we're returning home.

*. attended the Open day at Station 6 Newhaven; the station was packed out with scores of local people and the firefighters had put on a great range of activities; the crews take it in turns to organise the event and this year it was the turn of the RDS crews; they did a fantastic job with support from colleagues and although the event was interrupted by two fire calls, there were plenty of people on hand to keep the show on the road - ACFO Ferrand even found time to pick up some tips on practical pump operation!!!

*. went out on a 6 pump make-up in the City that eventually went to 8 pumps.  A difficult job for the initial BA crews with a number of people unaccounted for but the firefighters did a great job and confined the fire to the lower floors; a lot of BA wearers needed to search a complex building and then decontaminate equipment afterwards; all in all a good job by those involved.

*. met with our Investors in People Assessor to discuss his visit to ESFRS; he was very complimentary of all the staff he had met during his visit and to our staff who had helped prepare for the visit; lots of good work going on and also a number of areas for CMT to consider including ensuring our communication strategy is effective. We now await a final report for our further consideration.

*. met with the PO team to review our contingency planning arrangements; a huge amount of work had taken place to ensure we have fire cover across the City and County in the event of strike action and we will continue to look at how we can improve the fire cover we have available to provide a response to local communities; currently we are visiting stations to update staff on the contingency plan

*. visit to Heathfield Station to see the crew along with Mayfield; were we discussed contingency planning arrangements to make firefighters aware of what plans we are putting in place in case of any strike; other members of CMT have also been out this week speaking to our RDS and some day-crewed staff and next week we will brief wholetime staff.

* met with the Chair of the Sussex Business Leaders Forum to talk about how ESFRS can support local business and business development; also discussed training and development for leaders and any opportunities for work exchanges and placements.

*. meeting with the Treasurer as part of our regular monitoring of the revenue and capital spend; we will be reporting our spend profile to the Fire Authority next month and have identified some areas for in-year savings which should offset our future savings target.

*. met up with Red Watch at Preston Circus and we had a good chat about pensions, future service proposals and what cuts we may need to make, and we also talked about our contingency arrangements. The watch were very engaging and spoke passionately about their concerns but they also recognised the reality of the situation we are facing.

* series of meetings at HQ with Treasurer, IMD, HR  just to catch up on business and then a telephone conference with other CFOs to discuss national resilience issues and a number of recent government consultation documents.

* met with the Chairman to catch up on Fire Authority business as there are a number of key issues for our politicians to consider; we also discussed the new Sussex Control Centre, collaboration with other Authorities and future opportunities for our HQ.

This week crews from Hove and Preston Circus responded to an incident at Lansdowne Place, Hove, where they found fire had spread through the wall cavity and three floors. Firefighters used two hose reels and CAFS to extinguish the fire, using a snake eye camera to track the spread of fire in the wall cavities.  Firefighters from Bohemia Road and The Ridge, Hastings, responded to a kitchen fire in St Leonards using four breathing apparatus and hose reel jets to contain the fire. 

There has been a spate of gorse fires in the Hastings area with incidents in the Country Park, North's Seat, The Firehills and Tackleway.  Crews have been urging local residents to be careful and vigilant and to immediately report any incidents of fire to ESFRS.

Sussex Police requested assistance from ESFRS after reports of an aggressive dog at a property in Brighton; crews using an extension ladder rescued two people including the dog's owner from the property.

Firefighters from the City stations responded to a serious incident in Ship Street, Brighton during Saturday lunchtime when a fire was reported at a disused property in Ship Street; crews found a number of squatters still in the property, eventually rescuing six people; in total eight appliances and an ALP responded to the incident.

This Saturday, Preston Circus throws open its doors for its annual open day; staff are hoping to put on a fun day for all the family with displays, demonstrations and a chance to meet with the local firefighters; everyone is welcome so come along to what should be a great day out.

Not to be outdone by their City colleagues, Heathfield  Community Fire station will open their doors to visitors on Bank Holiday Monday in conjunction with ‘Le Marche’ Heathfield’s famous Anglo/French market. Lots of fantastic, exciting displays and demonstrations are planned throughout the day. Engineering Equipment Officer, Alan Summerfield said: “This family event will be a great opportunity to meet the firefighters. There will be fire engine rides for the children and younger adults, vintage along with new fire engines and fire safety advice. 

Burwash Community Fire Station will also be holding their Open Day on Monday with local families invited to come and meet their local firefighters and find out more about what’s involved in modern day firefighting and extrication techniques. 

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service

Thursday, 15 August 2013

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the future of the Fire & Rescue Service and we await the Government's response to Sir Ken Knight's Efficiency Review. I have no doubt the Government will have a view on how they see the future of the Service; what roles we should be performing, different options for delivering the Service and whether the existing Governance arrangements should continue.  
The changes to the Police with the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners is one model that is likely to be seriously considered and there have already been some calls for the existing Police & Crime Commissioners to take over the running of the Fire & Rescue Service. 

Closer integration with the Ambulance Service is also on the table as is co-location of sites, including Headquarters and police/ambulance/fire stations. We are likely to see considerable changes in the future; what we need to ensure is that we shape and influence the change rather than have change imposed upon us. 

I would wish to see a more open and transparent model for funding the Service, with more local accountability. The current situation where we have a government grant that is reducing year on year and where we collect Council Tax but have almost no say in whether we can raise Council Tax, places us in an impossible situation. 

Our funding has been reduced year on year for the past three years with further reductions every year up until 2018/19. I would like to see greater freedoms at a local level, to be able to go to local Council Tax payers and local businesses and make clear the cost of our Service, what we provide and what any rise in Council Tax would mean in their pocket, also making clear what the alternative means in terms of reducing our services. 

The Chancellor has made clear the cuts in funding we will have over the next five years, but what we do not yet know is what reforms will be introduced by Government. We remain committed in East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service to providing high quality services to our local communities as much as we are able to, but given the certainty of cuts to our funding, there is no alternative but to change the way we deliver all our services.  

I was inspired this week by watching Christine Ohuruogu running the 400 metres at the World Athletic Championship; coming into the last quarter of the race, Christine was in fifth place and as the finishing line came closer, she didn’t look like winning; but Christine dug in, using every ounce of effort and determination, never giving up! What a champion, what an inspiration and what an illustration of perseverance and resilience, qualities that organisational leaders at all levels must show in meeting the significant challenges we are all facing. 

Condolences and sympathies to the families of the Indian submariners who died following a huge explosion on the INS Sindhurakshak. I have two very good friends who were submariners and a few firefighters used to serve 'beneath the ocean waves', a special bunch of guys who chose this life. 

Some 13 years ago there was the tragedy on the Russian submarine, Kursk, where over 100 crew were killed following an explosion and there is little room for error in such confined environments. Let's hope and pray that the rescue operation now in progress results in lives being saved. Condolences also to the family of Mark Sutton, the stuntman who thrilled us all last year at the Olympics opening ceremony when he parachuted into the stadium dressed as James Bond.

My Week

  • Discussed the work we are involved in with JESIP (Joint Emergency Services Interagency Planning.) This work is led by CFOA working closely with senior colleagues from the Police and the Emergency Ambulance Service and reports directly to the Home Secretary. We believe there is an opportunity for the Fire Service College to be a training venue for the joint services making use of the excellent fireground facilities where we can develop realistic and challenging operational scenarios
  • Went across to The Ridge for their Open Day on Saturday. Lots of demonstrations and displays with SECamb and Sussex Police supporting the event. I met some 'new recruits' who had been put through their initial training course by firefighters on the station. What a brilliant initiative and the 'new recruits' had a fantastic experience and were very proud when they received their certificates
  • On Sunday I went to see the 999 Day on Hove Lawns. Another excellent joint emergency services event and our staff from ESFRS were kept very busy with the large and enthusiastic crowds. The Aerial Ladder Platform was certainly playing to the crowd and competing for the top 'showboater' along with Dave Ivemy and the chip pan and hot oil cooking demonstrator. Lots of crews from across the City were involved and thanks to our CFS staff, volunteers, support staff and officers who supported the events in Hastings and Hove
  • Meeting with Principal Officers at HQ to discuss our contingency planning preparations, a meeting with Councillors later this week to discuss the Integrated Risk Management plan, our annual plan which is due to be published and which sets out our general direction and savings target over the next 3 years
  • Planning for the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange in 2014 to agree venues and the theme for next year. We are currently looking at the subject of 'Public Value' and trying to get a number of key speakers who can help senior leaders drive forward and deliver public value in the public services
  • Met with colleagues at the Fire Service College to discuss our on-going working arrangements, the Executive Leadership Programme for 2013/14, with assessment centres to be held in September for the new intake of candidates who will start their programme in November and also met with colleagues from Skills for the Fire & Rescue Service to agree our work programme on national occupational standards and the Fire Professional Framework over the next 3 years
  • Also caught up with one of the NHS people I am mentoring, to discuss their PDP (Personal Development Plan), an excellent use of time as Sue planned this in my diary for lunchtime and arranged for my NHS colleague to drive to the Fire Service College for a meeting. Thanks Sue great use of my time and saves me having to eat at lunchtime!
  • Invited to a reunion with my old mates at Aylesbury fire station; I was a Leading Firefighter on Green Watch and a Sub on Blue Watch in the early 1980s having moved from Bletchley and had some great times at the old station in Cambridge Street, which is now a retail park! That old station certainly had some stories to tell!

In the middle of carrying out my appraisals. I always find these a very good time for reflection when meeting with my team, and what I find is the benefit of making the time for a discussion on personal, organisation and career objectives. I know that my team are working at a higher level of intensity than ever and that demands upon them are increasing. The appraisal serves as a reminder to me, just what they have achieved over the past 12 months, the significant contributions they have made and the responsibility I have to make time for them and to ensure they feel valued and supported - we are much stronger and more effective as a team than as a collective of individuals

Met with the Chairman to hear how he would want to take forward change and the role of the Fire Authority in leading this change. We discussed the developments for Newhaven the refurbishment and extension at Crowborough, Sussex Control Centre and preparations for next month’s Fire Authority meeting

This week firefighters from Battle were out at an incident on the A21 in Sedlescombe where a vehicle had collided with a telegraph pole and overturned with one female casualty trapped. Crews extricated the casualty using a spinal board supported by their paramedic colleagues from SECamb who took the casualty to hospital for further treatment. 

The benefits of working smoke alarms were proved earlier this week, after Lewes firefighters were called out to a house fire in the town. A young teenager in the property was woken by the smoke alarm and managed to escape without harm from what was a serious bedroom fire. One of the firefighters on the scene commented that the bedroom was seriously affected by the fire and if the youngster hadn't been woken by the smoke alarm then the outcome could have been very different. 

There has been a spate of deliberate fires in the Newhaven area in recent weeks with a serious gorse fire over the weekend. Approximately 30 firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze at Castle Hill, with over 50 emergency calls received by the Mobilising & Control Centre to this one incident.  Crews used hose reels, main jets and compressed air foam to bring the fire under control. Warnings have been issued to local communities to be vigilant and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are working with colleagues from Sussex Police to investigate these fires.

Firefighters from Bexhill responded to an unusual animal rescue incident where a 1.5 metre corn snake had escaped from a local property, whilst the owner was in the process of feeding the reptile. The firefighters used all their skills and resourcefulness to retrieve the snake from the guttering and return it safely to its owner and ever mindful of safety, offered a home safety check to the householder. 

This Saturday, Newhaven community fire station will be welcoming local people to their ever popular Open Day. Firefighters will be putting on displays and demonstrations and will showcase the specialist nature of the Service with the maritime firefighting team, animal rescue unit and water safety equipment.

On Friday and Saturday, firefighters from Hastings will be outside the main Debenhams department store speaking to the public about cooking safely with advice, information and informative displays. About two thirds of the property fires in Hastings are cooking related and crews hope to speak to local shoppers, parents and children during the school holidays when sometimes it is easy to become distracted when you are cooking, or on the phone or when there is simply a lot of activity and noise. Crews will also provide general advice on home safety and if required visit local homes and fit smoke alarms.

Sobering news from Egypt with reports indicating that many people have been killed as security forces started to clear protesters from parts of Cairo. The picture is still unclear but what I have seen and read in the media does give much cause for concern. 

But a great week for sport, with England winning the Ashes by blowing away the Aussies at the picturesque Riverside Ground in Durham. An England win against Scotland at Wembley and more success at the World Athletic Championship.  And at last, after a very long wait, the proper football season kicks off and normal service is resumed! 

Also a great week for NHS Blood and Transplant who have seen record numbers of organ donors saving over 4200 lives last year. There is still more to be done and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are proud to support blood and organ donations, and I often see the NHS team at our open days; but three people a day still die waiting for an organ donor and blood donations are a crucial part of our Health Service, so we must do all we can to support their fantastic work.

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service