Friday, 2 August 2013

2 August 2013

This week has been largely dominated by the outcome of the court case into the civil compensation claims for Marlie Farm. Two long-serving members of ESFRS, Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge, lost their lives while attending the incident at Shortgate near Lewes, on December 3rd 2006. The judgment found in favour of the claimants. This is now a matter for our insurers and legal advisors and together we are carefully considering the ruling. (See our full statement here

This ruling has brought back to the surface – for all those involved – the incident, the tragedy, the sheer magnitude of the event. I said at the time that we would do all we could to find out what had caused the tragedy so that I could let the families know, and that we would be open and honest with regards to the accident investigation and the fire investigation.

While we consider the judgment, I would like to reassure everyone that I take our duty of care to our staff incredibly seriously. Only those who have been there can fully understand the difficulties and the extreme challenges that sometimes confront firefighters and incident commanders. Here in ESFRS and across the country we learn lessons every day and we strive to improve the safety of our crews and the safety of those we are trying to help. I remain resolute and determined to support our firefighters and their incident commanders in responding safely to emergency incidents and returning safely to their loved ones. 

In other parts of the public sector, the challenges continue to mount with concerns expressed about the 111 service. This is designed to take pressure off the NHS by having a network of call centres as the first point of contact in what are deemed to be non-life threatening situations and where the public can call for advice as to where they should seek assistance for health related issues.  It appears in some areas the 111 service is becoming overwhelmed with calls and that those handling the calls are either unable to provide the advice in a timely manner or in some circumstances are unable to provide any advice that helps.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that many Accident and Emergency Departments are becoming overloaded with people coming in to be seen and this has a knock on effect on other parts of the NHS.  It does seem that as a nation we are demanding more and more of our Health Service but we are not able simply to put more money into the NHS.  This is a wonderful service that we should be proud of, but as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, we must look at reducing the demands placed on the NHS. 

As we look at opportunities to integrate 'Blue Light Services' what opportunities are there for FRSs to take some of the burden off the NHS, reduce the pressures on the emergency ambulance service, and help to promote prevention measures that will reduce the call on the NHS.  I believe there is a wider role for the FRS in supporting the wider health and emergency ambulance service, and would want to encourage those in position of influence to 'make it happen'.

My week

* met with the portfolio holder for West Sussex FRS to talk about how we could work more closely together and to see if there was an opportunity to re-open discussion on a merger; also discussed our training centre and whether this could become a joint centre for both Services

* had a Corporate Management Team meeting to discuss our first quarter financial report to ensure we are managing within budget; also looked at contingency planning arrangements, future options for our IT network and performance management all designed to deliver savings in the medium term; Borough Commanders attended  in the afternoon to provide updates on their local performance and partnerships; there are some differences in performance across Boroughs which may be expected, but there was also some marked differences across watches on the same stations

*. met with a representative from Apple who looks after the public sector to explore what opportunities their devices offer us and how we could make better use of iPads and iPhones. We discussed dealing with security issues, developing our own Apps and using these out in the field to reduce paperwork, improve efficiency and increase effectiveness. We have been invited to take a group of staff up to their HQ to talk about our ideas on how we would want to use this technology and will be putting together a group of operational and support staff to support this work.

*. long discussion with the Chairman on Fire Authority matters and a meeting he and Group Leaders had with the trade unions; also congratulations to our Chairman Cllr. Howson who has been nominated to be a Deputy Chair of the Fire Services Management Committee

*.  spent a lot of time catching up on business, with an email box that seemed about to burst. Also had a number of phone calls to catch up on and whilst it was a long day, I nearly managed to clear the 'in-tray", quite a success!

*. went to visit one of the watches in the Chichester mobilising centre and had a chat about the new Sussex Control Centre; watch were very upbeat and very positive and offered tea and ginger nuts!!!

This week our firefighters were called to a range of incidents including crews from Lewes responding to an incident at a commercial property on Market Street, where a woman had got her finger trapped in a sewing machine. Firefighters managed to free the casualty and handed her over to colleagues from South East Coast Ambulance (SECamb).

Firefighters from Wadhurst and Mayfield supported by crews from Kent responded to a road traffic collision on Balaclava Lane, Wadhurst involving two vehicles with one person trapped. Firefighters worked to free the casualty who was then passed to colleagues from SECamb; an Air Ambulance was called to the scene for support, with crews using an environmental pack to make the scene safe.

Crews from Seaford and Hailsham responded to an RTC on the A27, Berwick, near Drusillas roundabout. The incident involved three private motor vehicles with two persons trapped; good work by firefighters on scene saw the casualties freed released and handed over to the care of the Ambulance Service.

A serious fire broke out at a 6 storey building, known as Marlborough House in Warrior Square Hastings  last weekend.  At the height of the fire 11 pumps were in use, along with a water bowser, three aerial ladder platforms, and an Incident Command Unit. Firefighters tackled the fire inside the building wearing breathing apparatus. Three main jets and firefighting foam were also in use.

The Red Cross' Fire Support Unit, the police and the ambulance service also attended.  This was a demanding and difficult incident with crews and incident commanders doing a great job in ensuring the fire didn't spread to neighbouring buildings; M&CC staff also did extremely well in a very hectic control room with a number of other incidents also going on.
Firefighters from the City were called out to a property fire on Preston Drove, where they found both the first and second floors involved on fire; crews wearing breathing apparatus  used hose reels and the compressed air foam system to bring the fire under control with the Aerial Ladder Platform in attendance.

And can I personally pay a special thanks to Rosann Miller who works at HQ as our CRM database administrator.  Rosann was returning home to Seaside one evening this week when she witnessed an elderly man being knocked down by a car; despite being quite understandably shocked by the events, Rosann immediately went to help to give first aid and reassure the casualty who was badly injured and bleeding heavily, whilst also being in a vulnerable position in the road.  She also had the presence of mind to call the emergency services and stay with the casualty until help arrived; not many people would have acted with such speed and concern, but those who know her would say that she always put others first and whilst they were not surprised that she acted in this way, they very much admire what she did; oh and one other thing, Rosann does not expect any recognition whatsoever for her fantastic and courageous actions and has completely played down her role - so on behalf of the Service and our communities, thank you Rosann, you were absolutely wonderful.

This Saturday is Brighton Pride, one of the biggest events of its type in the country; this is always such a colourful and spectacular event and is fantastic fun with huge crowds; ESFRS always get a tremendous reception from the thousands thronging the streets and we have an appliance in the Parade; many other firefighters from across the country walk alongside us so come down and get into the party spirit!

I know the Open Days at Pevensey and Broad Oak went really well last weekend, but Broad Oak were left very short as just as they were about to start, the crew were called out to the major fire in Hastings; this left the rest of the crew supported by families and volunteers to 'man the pumps' at the village fete and still raise heaps for the Firefighters Charity.  Chris Sands and his crew returned from Hastings late in the evening after putting in a shift at Warrior Square to find everyone had gone home and they hadn’t even left any sausages from the barbecue!

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