Friday, 20 September 2013

CFO's blog 20 Sept 2013

Unfortunately the main news this week from my perspective is the decision of the Fire Brigades Union to announce a strike next Wednesday; I think we had all hoped that continuing dialogue could have led to a resolution and we could all have returned to focusing our efforts on what we do best, protecting our local communities.  But we have to acknowledge that the membership of the FBU have the right to engage in lawful industrial action and that many of our firefighters will be taking part in strike action on Wednesday. We still do however, have a duty as far as we are able, to provide an emergency response and this we will do.  We will continue to provide our mobilising, community safety services and protection services and our support staff will ensure ESFRS continues to function.  I know this will be a difficult and challenging time for many staff and we should focus on returning to normal operations as soon as we can.  I hope this dispute is resolved as soon as possible and we can get back to doing what we do best and that is driving down risk and making our communities safer. 

I must also say that I am delighted with the professionalism of our staff, who despite the planned industrial action, are continuing to provide an excellent service and are not letting the current difficulties get in the way of the great job they do every day. I am also pleased with the professional way in which the FBU Chairman and Secretary have sought to engage in dialogue with me and my senior team despite the external pressures that are often put on them.

Is it the trip of a lifetime or a great publicity stunt; with people looking for more and more exotic holiday destinations, late last week over 200,000 people had applied for a one-way trip to Mars in 2023; now this seems a bit of a drastic measure to get away from the austerity measures we are facing, although you won't need to take any sunscreen, just gamma radiation protection!!!
Whilst I have always enjoyed venturing to foreign fields, there is much of planet earth that I would prefer to visit before I embark on a trip to the 'Red Planet'.  Mind you there are quite a number of people I would recommend and top of my list would be the FIFA reps who awarded the 2020 World Cup to Qatar; I've got no problem with a Middle East country hosting the World Cup, but during the summer when temperatures are 40 degrees, what were they thinking of; so go spend some time on Mars, although I'm not sure whether this would result in them changing their mind and awarding the World Cup to Neptune.

My week:

*. staff meeting at HQ to discuss the outcome of the Fire Authority meeting and their agreements on the contingency plans for industrial action where we will have a number of pumps crewed by staff including Officers not involved in any strike;  we are still trying to reach a local agreement with the FBU to implement the TUC protocol which could provide a limited number of pumps to be crewed during any industrial action, but so far we have not been able to get an agreement with the FBU

*. had a 'coaching' session with a senior manager from the NHS that I am supporting and very interesting to hear about the challenges he is facing particularly on influencing outside the NHS, income generation and parts of the NHS having a more commercial outlook

*.   discussion with a colleague CFO who is working on a merger with another FRS; he wanted to understand the challenges we had faced with our merger proposals, local and national political issues and how to manage the differences in Council Tax - I hope he has more success as from a professional perspective, I remain convinced that a Sussex FRS would be more resilient and cost effective and would be able to reduce costs and meet the financial challenges we are facing in a different way

*.  had a number of meetings at HQ with the PO team and the Treasurer where we discussed in great detail the report from our Auditors which are now Ernst & Young - they take a different approach to the Audit Commission and bring a private sector focus; also met with the FBU to discuss the industrial action

*. met with Elizabeth Curtis, our Comms and Media lead; Elizabeth is making some great contacts with local media and is looking at ways to promote the excellent work of ESFRS including Twitter, Facebook and other social media; also had to do a 'piece to camera' advising the public and local businesses in case of any strike action; spoke again with the FBU as it is crucial we maintain dialogue during what is a difficult time for everyone, and we remain  hopeful that a resolution can be found before any strike takes place

* attended a meeting of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council; I was invited to speak to local Councillors, prospective local Councillors and also prospective Parliamentary candidates to update them on the work of ESFRS, how we engage and work with the City Council, initial proposals to meet the Fire Authority's savings targets over the next 5 years which will have an implication on the City, contingency plans and our community safety work. The Councillors were really impressed with the work our staff do right across the City and wanted to express their appreciation of the work ESFRS undertake to make the City safer

*. meeting of CFOs from the South East region to discuss a range of issues including the collaborative work on national operational guidance and standard operating procedures; 22 FRS’s across the country are now signed up to this new way of working which should support the knowledge and understanding of firefighters in their operational role which should lead to safer operational practices

*. had a meeting with colleagues to discuss the Fire Professional Framework which was launched this week at the CFOA Conference and how this can support the learning and development of our staff; I was one of the speakers and provided an update to the delegates on key people and HR issues including literacy and numeracy, qualifications, our future relationship with the College and also the work we are doing with the University of Bath on fitness standards; the Fire Minister Brandon Lewis spoke at the Conference with key messages that all Services will have to deliver greater value for money, move towards an increasing use of RDS firefighters and a reduction in wholetime firefighters, which was part of Sir Ken Knight's efficiencies review and with the focus of our work to be on prevention and protection.

*. heard from M.P. Tobias Ellwood and Adam Simmonds the PCC for Northants about the changes they wanted to see in the FRS, working out of a joint emergency services headquarters and with multi skilled staff having a range of emergency response skills which may eventually lead to one emergency service; I did challenge the lack of leadership at Government level and the lack of support for a joint Sussex FRS which I have said on a number of occasions,  would provide for a more cost effective and efficient service across Sussex.

Earlier this week firefighters from Preston Circus responded to a fire at a property in Hollingdean, Brighton crews used a Co2 extinguisher to put out a small fire in the kitchen before using a Positive Pressure Ventilation fan to disperse smoke from the property. The majority of property fires we now attend start in the kitchen, mostly due to householders either becoming distracted whilst cooking, leaving cooking unattended or over filling pans when using cooking oils and fats.  Safe cooking is one of our home safety priorities and we must focus our efforts on reducing fires in the kitchen and last Saturday, firefighters from Hastings set up chip pan fire demonstrations in Warrior Square Gardens, to show onlookers what can happen if a chip pan catches alight and how best to deal with it. 

Crews from Hastings assisted in the rescue of a male casualty from the 4th floor of external scaffolding.  Firefighters used an aerial appliance and a basket stretcher to rescue the casualty who was then taken into the care of SECAmb.

Firefighters from Stn 01 supported by crews from surrounding stations were called to a fire at a recycling and waste management site at Greystone Quarry Lewes on 13 September, crews found two shredding units, each measuring approximately 10 metres by 20 metres, were alight.  Crews used foam and jets to extinguisher the fire, remaining on site for some considerable time. 

ERFRS continue to promote residential sprinkler systems with the Fire Authority agreeing a statement on sprinklers signed by Chairman Cllr. Phil Howson.  The Fire Authority will now lobby for there to be a legal requirement for sprinklers to be fitted in all premises where there is deemed to be a high fire risk and will work with local authorities across East Sussex and the City of Brighton & Hove to promote the fitting of smoke detectors in new and refurbished buildings.  Continuing our community safety drive, the Wealden Borough team are planning their electric blanket testing service for three days in October.  Last year this initiative resulted in 245 blankets tested, with 37% failing to meet safety standards. The sessions also provide an opportunity to receive friendly advice and information on home safety, house adaptations, energy efficiency, home security, fire prevention and local services.

This Saturday will see the last formal station open day of 2013 (it really is the end of the summer), when Mayfield firefighters will be in the High Street between 9.30am and 12.30pm as part of 'Mayfield’s Carnival', lots to do and a chance to meet and talk to the crews with local Watch Commander Neil Walter saying, "This family event will be a great chance to meet the firefighters and talk to them about fire safety and recruitment of retained firefighters. There will be a fire engine for children to look around and the chance to try their hand at firefighting by using a hosereel at a model of a house fire

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