Friday, 13 December 2013

I spent a few days in Venice, a very interesting City from a Fire & Rescue perspective. It was my first time in Venice and whilst I knew it was built on a system of canals, I hadn't appreciated the complete absence of any roads or vehicles in the city, people either get about by walking or in boats. I didn't see any cars or bikes although there was a hydrant on most streets but you could certainly not get a fire appliance down any streets. Imagine The Lanes in Brighton, but across the whole City area, I saw the local firefighters in action a couple of times, turning out in boats from their main station just off the Grand Canal and also running down the really narrow streets with portable extinguishers and working from a hydrant. It would be a really interesting opportunity for ESFRS firefighters to exchange experiences with their colleagues in Venice, I'm sure there would be a lot of great learning on both sides. 

Great to see that a Second World War veteran Robert Argyle who served as a pilot in Bomber Command was given a fitting tribute at his funeral in Eastbourne this week. Mr Argyle sadly passed away last month and, as he had no known family, his carers were expected to be the only people to attend the funeral. However, with the launch of an on-line campaign, it was reported more than 100 people attended the service, demonstrating the power of social media and great public spirit. 

This week we have found out that James Bond could do with attending the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership as we have heard that Mr Bond has, on occasions, got behind the wheel of his Aston Martin after having a few too many Vodka Martini's. Now James may well be a style icon and a member of Her Majesty's Secret Service, and whilst he may be 'licensed to kill' he is most certainly not licensed to drink and drive and his conduct sets an appalling example. We have written this week to Mr Bond, aka Daniel Craig, inviting him to visit ESFRS to attend one of our 'Safe drive stay alive' programmes and we hope Mr Bond accepts our offer and then helps us to promote safer driving on our roads - we await a response!

My week:

  • had my annual fitness check at HQ; good to get advice on diet and alcohol consumption as I must confess I do enjoy the occasional glass of wine; but as Louise carefully explained, do these things in moderation and just because Chelsea win it is not always a good excuse to open another bottle!!! These health checks are really good as prevention is better than cure and I am not very good at doing those 'personal checks'. Men in general are not good at this but with a helpful nudge from Louise this was really worthwhile, as well as monitoring cholesterol levels and checks for diabetes.
  • I had an exit interview with one of our HR team who is leaving for pastures new; Vicki Law is moving to a new HR role with the RSCPA and we spoke about her time with ESFRS which Vicki had enjoyed tremendously and had made many good friends. One of our challenges is keeping talented, career minded individuals, particularly in support services where there are fewer opportunities. Vicki did say that one of the good things about ESFRS is the way we invest in training and developing our staff which is absolutely the right thing to do, although the risk is we then sometimes lose our staff to other organisations. However staff are key to the successful public services we deliver, and even in challenging financial times we must continue investment in staff development.
  • had the afternoon off on Friday as some friends came over to take me out for a birthday lunch (but first we went to Brighton Pier to go on the rides); thanks to my great team for organising the day, clearing my diary and getting me the time off!!!
  • had a telephone interview with 'Fire' Magazine who wanted to do an article on the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange and then spoke with some senior managers from other FRSs who want to be part of the programme for next year, either as delegates or syndicate directors; hopefully we will grow the CSLE and provide cost effective development for future leaders across the public sector.
  • met with the Chairman to catch up the work he is doing with the LGA on sprinklers and waste management as one of the Deputy leaders; also discussed industrial action as well as our plans and discussions with other local authorities and Sussex Police on a review of our building estate and what opportunities we had for sharing facilities.
  • was interviewed by our Communications and Marketing Manager, Elizabeth Curtis as part of our review of communications; Elizabeth has some great ideas on how we can communicate more effectively both internally and externally, how we can make better use of social media and how we can use YouTube for getting information out quickly and to the right audience.
  • meeting with the Chairman to discuss preparations for next year's budget with the latest information from Government on Council Tax and whether there will be another freeze grant; also talked about contingency plans for the continuing industrial action and whether the NJC employers are involved in any discussions with DCLG and the FBU. Then it was the Fire Authority meeting where Councillors considered council tax, budget planning for next year and their early discussions on savings proposals which will go for public consultation in February, followed by a staff meeting at HQ where I provided an update on what had been discussed with the Fire Authority.
  • final CMT meeting of 2013; it has been a challenging year to ensure ESFRS are in a position to withstand the continuing cuts to the revenue budget. Proposals have been discussed with the Fire Authority and our elected members now have to agree their medium term plan.
  • With the recent storm surge on the East Coast where nearly 2,000 properties were flooded, we were relatively fortunate that we did not experience similar flooding along our coast. There was some localised flooding in Newhaven with approximately 100 homes being affected by high tides and strong winds. The railway station was flooded which also caused some short circuiting of the electricity supply and crews from Newhaven were called out to assist, warning local residents to switch off electrics and, where they could, to move possessions upstairs. The south coast train service to Lewes was severely disrupted due to the flooding. 

Crews from Uckfield and Lewes were called out to an incident at Sheffield Park where there was a fire in the Coach House Tea Room and swift action by firefighters using compressed air foam contained the fire to a storeroom. 

Firefighters from the animal rescue unit supported by crews from Uckfield responded to an incident where a calf had become trapped in railings at Hadlow Down, crews used hydraulic cutting equipment to free the animal. 

An emergency call was received to a flat fire in Mile Oak, where people were believed to be trapped inside, crews from Hove and Preston Circus responded where they found smoke coming from the building and firefighters wearing BA, used hosereel jets to extinguish the fire and lead one person to safety. 

Firefighters from Hastings were called out to a fire in a vacant property in St Leonards where they used BA hose reel jets and compressed air foam to extinguish the blaze.

Crews from Preston Circus were called out to assist at an incident where a mini bus developed a fault which meant a group of wheelchair users couldn't get off the vehicle, when the crews arrived they made sure that everyone was ok and then chatted to the passengers before assisting them off the vehicle. 

Crews from all three City stations supported by firefighters from Shoreham were called out on Thursday evening to a fire in Embassy Court on the seafront, the fire was in a third floor flat and crews remained at the scene until the early hours of Friday morning. All residents have now returned to their properties apart from the fire damaged flat and a property below that suffered some water damage.

This Saturday, firefighters will be taking part in a 'Santa Run' at Chailey Sports Ground to raise funds for the Firefighters Charity; everyone will be encouraged to wear fancy dress with prizes for the most extravagant and if you haven't got a spare elf or reindeer costume, there will be 'Santa outfits' available on the day for a small fee!!! 

On Friday, firefighters from Lewes hold their 'Open Evening' with demonstrations, fire safety advice and Santa will be dropping in for a mince pie and a chat with the children, so if you have some last minute Christmas wishes, make sure you get across to see Santa before he heads back to the North Pole to prepare for Christmas Eve!

And don’t forget on Wednesday and Thursday, Preston Circus will be holding their Annual Christmas Collection, so anyone who is able to volunteer to help raise funds for the Firefighters Charity please contact the station.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is currently providing advice on safety over Christmas with advice on candle safety. We are also involved with our partners on the Safer Road Partnership advising about the dangers of drinking and driving and to warn drivers not to be tempted to have a drink just because it's Christmas and remember, if you're going to a Christmas party then either make sure you have organised a lift home or have a designated driver.

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