Friday, 25 October 2013

Our firefighter colleagues in New South Wales are battling some of the largest bush fires ever seen in Australia with fire fronts stretching hundreds of kilometres.  Many of these firefighters have been working for days with little rest and the most extreme of conditions and even for the most experienced firefighters in the UK, it is hard to imagine a wildland fire sweeping down a mountainside faster than you can run.  Hundreds of homes have been lost already and CFO Shane Fitzsimmons has been speaking about the dedication of his crews, many of who are volunteers.  We send our best wishes to our fellow firefighters as the temperatures rise again and the fires that have spread from the Blue Mountains are now only 30 miles from the western suburbs of Sydney. 

Now I know one of the frustrations of modern living can be the need to remember 'passwords' but how are you getting on with on-line security? Recent research shows that about 50% of us use the same password for all our accounts and all our devices and that the five most common passwords are the names of our pets, then children, mother's maiden name, date of birth or even part of our own name; so where are you on this? Will you be easier to crack than the bubble surrounding the Gooners surprise start to the season, or would it take a team from Bletchley Park to get anywhere near to your Facebook account?  My problem is I keep forgetting my passwords and I am always asking for a password reset; but we all need to sharpen up, as online crime is on the increase and as we become more reliant on our mobile devices, we need to choose a password that's a bit harder to crack than Scooby-Doo. 

What a good evening on Tuesday, with the Super Blues wining in Germany, and the Gooners fluffing their lines at the Emirates. Work has been very hectic of late and a bit stressful, but one night of Champions League football makes everything seem much brighter! However, keeping things bright on Friday 25th October is  'wear it pink' day, promoting breast cancer awareness, so when you come to work or go out on Friday, make sure you wear your best 'pink' and support this fantastic campaign which has helped to save many lives. 

Now what about the 'Great British Bake Off', compelling viewing for eight million people; whoever came up with the concept of competitive baking and persuaded people to put this on TV is a genius and, as for the final, well the unfancied outsider Frances came through and left Ruby and Kimberley firmly in her wake. However, what about our brilliant bakers in ESFRS - we have some great cake makers as we see every year when we have the Macmillan coffee mornings; perhaps an ESFRS 'bake off', as I am sure we have some great cake and pudding makers out on our fire stations as well?  I'm happy to be on the judging panel although will need to step up the training to account for the extra calories!

My week:

  • Telephone conference to discuss the new director post being advertised at the Fire Service College; this is an exciting post that will support the strategic development of training at the College and should benefit all Services.
  • Went across to have a chat with a couple of Watches at Eastbourne and to discuss the most recent correspondence on the industrial dispute. It is vitally important staff have all necessary information as there can be rumours and speculation which can be unhelpful. The average age of Green Watch seems to have reduced with the retirement of Bob Newton although there are a few firefighters coming up fast on the rails but not admitting how old they are, I'm reliably informed they still play a mean game of squash!
  • Dropped in at Newhaven Fire Station and had a quick chat with the duty crew and updated them on proposals for the new fire station in the town centre. We hope to be able to move forward with this project in the next few weeks and are in final discussions with potential partners to see if we can have a shared use facility
  • CMT all day Monday with a good discussion about the Sussex Control Centre which is getting nearer to the 'go-live' date. The building work has gone extremely well and on time, with the technical contractors now taking over to commence their part of the work. Staffing has been agreed and I must complement all our staff in Eastbourne and Chichester for the professional way they continue to work at a time of significant change; budget monitoring showed we are still on track to deliver our capital programme with projects at training centre and Crowborough going well and the work on the fleet and equipment all going to plan. Borough Commanders all came to discuss performance in their own areas with lots of good work across the Service and some innovative suggestions for future performance targets.
  • Attended a meeting of the county council to give them an update on the work of ESFRS, how we are looking to integrate more in safer communities and the health and well-being boards and our proposals for our financial targets over the next five years; we continue to take financial services from the county council and will look at other opportunities to work more closely together.
  • Met separately with the Chairman and a number of other Fire Authority members to discuss the latest communication from the National Employers on the pensions dispute. There is a meeting later this week where the Employers will discuss their recent meetings with DCLG and the FBU and they are seeking views for all Fire Authorities in England with regard to the dispute.
  • Discussion with the Fire Sprinkler Network following the recent announcement that regulations have now been passed in Wales requiring sprinklers in high risk premises such as care homes and some hostels. Also, delighted that Lewes District Council has agreed to support sprinklers in certain premises following motion put forward by Cllr. Carolyn Lambert and it is now hoped other local authorities in East Sussex will do the same.
  • Met with other Chief Officers in the South East to look at options for much closer working in all areas of our Service and continuing discussions with other senior officers to look at how we can provide a more integrated emergency response with some Police & Crime Commissioners keen on taking over the responsibility for fire & rescue.
  • As part of my own development I am training to become a coach, not the sporting type, but as a coach to future leaders; currently working with two senior nursing staff and with an overseas colleague who works for a major Swiss consultancy; I hope this experience will help me to support staff in ESFRS as part of their personal development.
  • Discussed the next Executive Leadership Programme with Warwick Business School and finalised the course content, including some changes we have made to the political environment and self-awareness part of the programme. Delighted to see that Mark O'Brien has got a place on the programme; the assessment centre is very challenging so well done to Mark who I am sure will benefit a great deal from attending the ELP.
  • Attended a meeting with the national employers who were considering the recent principles proposed to try and reach a resolution to the dispute. It was a helpful meeting as it was agreed that firefighters would all be supported to maintain their fitness and if they did not reach the required level, they would be given time to recover their fitness before being retested and that the suggestion that any firefighter faced the threat of instant dismissal was simply not true. Also, firefighters did have the right to retire once they reached the age of 55 and that any actuarial reduction was only on that part of pension in the 2015 scheme. It was also confirmed that all rights in the 1992 scheme are protected and enhanced for everyone and would be treated as 1/45th for every year of service, so the suggestion that there would be no job and no pension was not true as members of the scheme could simply make their own decision to retire once they had reached the age of 55. 

This week firefighters from Bohemia Road and The Ridge were called to a coach fire in St Leonards; the fire was affecting two nearby vehicles and three properties with crews using compressed air foam and jets to contain the blaze. 

Crews from Newhaven responded to a fire alarm at the Meridian Centre in Peacehaven where they found a small fire in the main electrical intake, firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used Co2 extinguishers to put out the fire. 

Crews from Roedean and Preston Circus were called out to an incident on Marine Drive, where a vehicle had been in a collision and had overturned with one person trapped, firefighters freed the casualty who was then treated by paramedics and taken to hospital.

Over the past two years one of the great successes in ESFRS has been our community volunteer scheme and we have recruited over 60 members of our local community as 'Community Volunteers'.They do a fantastic job bringing in a huge range of skills and experiences and have undoubtedly helped to make our communities safer. We are now recruiting for more volunteers in the Lewes area so please encourage friends and neighbours to be part of a great service that really makes a difference to saving lives.

Don't forget to turn your clocks back this Sunday morning and ensure you test your smoke alarm at the same time. We are promoting the 'Tick, Tock, Test' message and if you have any elderly or vulnerable neighbours, pop round to give them a hand; enjoy your extra hour in bed and stay safe.

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