Friday, 1 November 2013

This year is flying past and we're already in November. It won't be long before the shops start playing those awful Christmas songs just to get us in the mood, I wonder which establishment will be first to go with the Christmas tape!!!  It's a bit like the central heating, you can't switch it on before the end of November no matter how cold it is, but once it's on, you can't switch it off until the end of March, no matter how warm it is.  

The weather has been much on our minds this past week and tragically a teenager was swept away in heavy seas off Newhaven a few days ago and the high winds brought down a number of trees, which again claimed a number of lives.  ESFRS were heavily involved in the emergency planning for last weekend’s storms and thanks to all our staff who helped to ensure we were ready and able to respond; Mobilising and Control did a terrific job with a high volume of calls in the early hours of Monday morning with crews responding to a range of storm related incidents.  

I thought the utility companies worked well to restore power; the major electricity companies have been getting a lot of stick in the press lately because of their prices rises, but fair play to their staff who often work in some quite extreme conditions to ensure the lights remain on. 
It's the same with the rail companies as it's easy to criticise when your train doesn't arrive on time, but they do have to contend with an ageing infrastructure and decades of under-investment.  

I heard one of the rail unions calling for the railways to be returned to public ownership; well coming from a railway family I think that's looking at the world through rose tinted glasses as it was during most of the last century when the railways were nationalised that there was a lack of investment and forward planning; huge strides have been made in recent years but we need to learn the lessons of the past; I am in favour of HS2 as the national infrastructure investment that we need to grow our economy, not just now but in decades to come; there will be environmental concerns and rightly so, but we should be mature enough to recognise that the UK needs this investment and we can protect our countryside and heritage at the same time. 

I remember as a young lad watching football at Stamford Bridge and other grounds, they were an absolute disgrace and fans were treated abysmally; but over the past 20 years we have seen proper investment that makes the whole experience enjoyable, that's unless you are an Arsenal fan as they were brought back to the reality of what it's like to play a proper football team on Tuesday evening!!!

My week:
  • Met with one of our middle managers as part of their personal development and to discuss their future career ambitions; it is really pleasing for me to see a number of our staff who are pursuing further qualifications and looking to develop  themselves and I am sure our future is bright; I am also delighted to see a number of our operational staff involved in overseas projects with Operation Florian; they bring a huge wealth of knowledge and experience to developing countries but also develop a number of leadership and interpersonal skills which are really beneficial to  their work in ESFRS

  • I have just been asked to act as a coach to a colleague from the NHS and had a useful initial discussion as we spoke about her 'coaching contract' and the expectations of working with me; I find this work very rewarding and I know a number of our staff are benefiting from reciprocal arrangements as we grow our partnership with the NHS and Police

  • Met with the senior officers in WSFRS to update on the Sussex Control Centre (SCC) Project and options for greater integration of training and L&OD. The building at Haywards Heath is progressing really well and is on time and within budget and now we move to the phase of the mobilising system; no doubt there will be some challenges to overcome but we do have a great team working extremely hard to ensure a successful project is delivered.

    We were then joined by our Chairman Cllr. Howson and senior politicians from West Sussex County Council to keep them updated on the SCC. It was confirmed that there is no prospect of a merger, certainly in the medium term but WSCC are keen to look at how we can share training resources and we are keen to look at the potential to develop Maresfield if we can find a partner and funding

  • A number of meetings at HQ to update on contingency planning and a review on procurement where we believe we can make efficiency savings and also make life easier for staff; to order a plate of sandwiches seems to be a bit of a chore and we need to move away from having forms in triplicate; I know some Station Commanders and other managers are a bit frustrated with some of our procurement processes but so are our procurement team; we are determined to make the process 'lean'

  • Went to see the duty crew at Lewes and found the gym busy at 07.30 with the Borough Commander setting an excellent example on the rowing machine; then they all left for a run so I had a leisurely ride on the bike before Matt Elder arrived so I had to put in a bit more effort and try and work up a sweat otherwise I was in danger of looking like West Ham's strike force, anonymous.

    Then I spotted the barbell with about 130kg so thought
      I would  try a bit of dead lifting just to let Matt see I am not completely past it, but it was a case of enthusiasm getting in the way of my ability to lift heavy weights these days although once committed you've got to pick the thing up otherwise you look like a real numpty; fortunately my girdle was tight enough to stop the vital organs from popping out, but next time I will start a bit lighter!!!

  • Had a good chat with the duty crew with a nice brew but if Martin Lusk offers you any of his pumpkin seeds, I suggest you give them a miss unless you're in the habit of eating the droppings from the bottom of the birdcage. It was interesting listening to their conversation where they convinced themselves that a great big wedge of chocolate cake was healthier than a bottle of Lucozade and then proceeded to make a big dent in the cake which was supposed to serve 14 people!

  • Had the great privilege of representing ESFRS at the luncheon for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at Harvey's Brewery in Lewes. It was great to see the large crowds and particularly the children all cheering and waving flags when the Queen arrived in the town and also a great honour for Harvey's to host the Royal Visit. I'm sure they will brew a special beer in honour of the visit and how many of you remember when Harvey's brewed a special edition called 'Firecracker' with a yellow cap to signify a fire helmet following the fire in the late 1990's in Lewes High Street.

  • Went across to Sussex Police HQ for a Strategic Co-Ordinating Meeting to discuss preparations for the storms over the weekend, our operational response arrangements and the recovery phase. These meetings are extremely useful and enable the proper planning to be out in place before the event and our staff who are involved in emergency planning arrangements have made a great contribution to resilience across Sussex in such event.

    Also discussed whether it would be realistic to talk about sharing a HQ, combining back office functions and integrating our community safety teams - these discussions and others with other emergency services and local authorities in the South East are at a very early stage, but we do need to think very creatively to ensure we maintain high quality delivery of public services into the 21st century

This week firefighters from Rye were called out to a serious RTC on Rye Harbour Road where a vehicle had left the roadway and collided with a tree; crews managed to free the occupant and provided immediate trauma care but unfortunately the casualty was pronounced dead at the scene.

Firefighters from Heathfield and Uckfield responded to a serious road traffic collision on the A267 near Horam where a van and lorry were involved in a head on collision; sadly the driver of the van did not survive the impact of the collision with firefighters having to free the casualty from the wreckage; drivers are reminded to be aware of the difficult driving conditions that we often find in autumn with low sun sometimes dazzling drivers, rain or spray obscuring vision and leaves or water lying on the road surface that can be an additional hazard.

Crews from across the Service attended a number of weather related incidents including one where a fallen tree had trapped the occupants of a house in Hove.  Firefighters from Forest Row were called out to a flooding incident in Wythiam where they used a submersible pump to remove the flood water, and crews from Wadhurst were called out to a special service where a church steeple was in danger of collapse and a large amount of debris was found in the church yard, firefighters cordoned off the area and made the scene safe before handing over to the church authorities. 

For many years ESFRS has been at the forefront of promoting sprinklers particularly in new build homes and a previous Chairman of ESFA, Mike Murphy was the LGA spokesperson on sprinklers and was extremely knowledgeable in this area.  More recently our current Chairman Cllr. Howson has been appointed as the Deputy Chair of the Fire Services Management Committee and has a vital role in the sprinkler lobby and we must congratulate Cllr Carolyn Lambert who has successfully petitioned Lewes District Council to install sprinklers in new build council owned buildings; Cllr Phil Scott and Cllr Mike Wincott have established an on-line petition promoting sprinklers and which we are encouraging local people to sign up to, and it is great to see our Fire Authority members so active in this important life safety measure.

On Friday evening and again on Monday we will see strike action by members of the FBU across England and Wales and we will be putting into place our contingency planning arrangements. We will have a number of crews available across the City and County but not as many as when we are working normally and therefore we are advising local people to be extra vigilant during the periods of strike action; we have put out advice and information to local communities and businesses through our website and the media and hope that people can remain safe. I am not looking forward to being on duty on Friday evening and Monday morning but we must ensure as far as we are able, that we provide an emergency service to the public we serve.

Finally, don’t forget the Children in Need appeal, which takes place on Friday 15 November.  Uckfield are planning a fun day at their station on Saturday 9 November, so if you fancy getting into the mood, do pop along as fun and games have been promised!

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service