This week marked the 7th anniversary of the Marlie Farm tragedy and we would have hoped that after such a long time we could have put the events behind us and that we could move forward. Sadly, there are unresolved issues before the courts, matters that are entirely outside the control of ESFRS and the Fire Authority. I realise that this truly dreadful matter seems to hang over ESFRS and in particular the families of Brian and Geoff and the staff who were injured in the explosion.
My sincere hope is that the different parties who are involved in this matter resolve their differences as soon as possible and that we focus on the people involved and do all we can to allow them to move forward. We will never forget that terrible incident, nor will we ever forget Brian and Geoff; they were dear friends and colleagues and remain forever in our hearts.
Thursday was busy for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and a number of Northern and East Coast FRSs, including Kent, due to the extreme winds and sea storm surge. Sadly, a number of people were killed or injured by falling trees or lorries toppling over; thankfully we did not feel the sometimes destructive force of nature on the South Coast. Our swift water rescue team were mobilised to support their colleagues in Suffolk and local communities under threat of the storm surge and the NSAT team were put on stand-by to staff the emergency control room in London and co-ordinate resource deployment.
We also learnt somewhat disappointingly, that there are going to be more strikes called by the FBU for next Friday and Saturday. Therefore, we will be putting our contingency plan into operation, to try to ensure our local communities are kept safe and that we provide an effective emergency response during the industrial action.
Late on Thursday we heard the very sad news that Nelson Mandela had passed away; a truly inspirational leader and statesman who demonstrated forgiveness and reconciliation. I had the privilege of hearing Nelson Mandela speak in Brighton in 2000; the audience were spellbound and you just knew you were in the presence of someone truly special.
This week the Government announced their proposals for an eye watering £375 billion investment programme in infrastructure projects over the next 20 years; that's a third of a trillion pounds! These national projects include energy, transport, communications and water and if that's the plan I wonder how much will filter down to East Sussex and Brighton & Hove, as this part of the country has suffered for decades with under investment in infrastructure.
I know some areas such as Cornwall and East Anglia may raise the same arguments, but those parts of the country don't have the same large population as we have in the South-East. Our railway infrastructure is simply rubbish; it is antiquated and is partly the reason (along with our road system), for the lack of real jobs and opportunities for young people in many parts of East Sussex. You can understand why businesses prefer not to relocate to East Sussex.
I was with some colleagues from Humberside and Staffordshire earlier this week and they can get to London quicker than I can from Eastbourne, and as for Hastings, you need to take a packed lunch when travelling up to London! Why are we still waiting for the Dover to Honiton trunk road promised as long ago as the 1960's, do we have some sort of pathological fear of dual carriageways in our county - is it because those in Government think we trot about Sussex in our pony and trap or that we break out in a rash when we see tarmac!
As for mobile phones and 4G, a complete joke south of Gatwick, yet mobile phone companies continue to earn excessive profit from .... Apologies had to stop working on my iPad as travelling from Seaford up to London and no 3G! It is now becoming apparent that Vodafone don't have any mobile phone masts in the local area, and as for 3G, it must be one of the most frustrating aspects of my working day, when you are frequently on the move and trying to work and hey presto, now you have 3G and now you don't; so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to contribute to discussions on how the £375 billion is spent and that some of it trickles down our way!
- Attended a meeting of the Institute of Directors getting a better understanding of the financial picture going forward, the Scottish referendum on independence, the effect of regulation on business and how poor regulation can hamper business growth; important area for FRSs to ensure we do not burden business with unnecessary regulation and also support innovation in building design and use of technology and new building materials.
- Met with the Programme Board for the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange and extremely pleased to see that the NHS leadership academy and Civil Service learning are keen to be involved in the work we are promoting.
- Drafted final responses to the DCLG pensions consultation and discussed with CllrHowson and Group Leaders. Also, discussed the response from CFOA; the consultation closed on Friday and we hope that DCLG will continue dialogue with the FBU to resolve the current industrial dispute.
- A number of meetings with PO team and a Treasurer which is part of the day to day business of running ESFRS. These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss specific areas that each of the POs and Treasurer are responsible for and as we move towards our final draft budget preparations, we can look in more detail at the areas that affect our Council Tax collection and additional costs falling on the Fire Authority as a result of recent decisions on pension arrangements.
- Went to the Cross Sector Leadership Summit in London with over 120 delegates who had attended our programmes in 2013. Angela Rippon was one of the keynote speakers in her capacity as an Ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society - this year’s theme has been "An Ageing Society" with next year focussing on Public Value.
- Attended the memorial event we hold at HQ on 3rd December to mark the Marlie Farm tragedy and where we offer up two minutes silence in memory of Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker and those who were injured at the incident; we were very pleased that Lesley Wembridge and members of her family attended and we laid flowers on the memorial headstones for Brian and Geoff; Heather Wicker and her family marked the day with their own family reflections and our thoughts were with them.
- Went to a 'round table' meeting called by Fire Minister Brandon Lewis where he had invited the NJC employers, trade unions and CFOA to discuss the current pensions dispute as part of the consultation process.
- Attended a meeting of other senior officers at one of the CFOA Strategic Committees; we were updated on progress on fitness standards and the work of Firefit/Bath University, National Occupational Standards and qualifications, new courses at the Fire Service College and progress of work on a revision of the PQAs (Personal qualities and attributes).
Crews from Battle and Burwash responded to an incident at Hawkhurst Rd. Flimwell where two vehicles were involved in a collision; firefighters using hydraulic cutting equipment released one female casualty from the wreckage.
Firefighters from Preston Circus and Hove were called out to a fire in Denmark Villas; crews wearing breathing apparatus used a hose reel to extinguish a fire in the kitchen.
Two incidents involving horses saw crews from Crowborough, Hastings and Herstmonceux called out to an animal rescue centre in Ashburnham where a horse had collapsed and to Battle where a shire horse had become trapped in a pond. Crews managed to rescue the shire horse without any lasting ill effects and to assist the horse at the rescue centre, back onto its feet. And the animal related incidents continued with Hastings firefighters called out to rescue a cat that had become trapped in a wall cavity. Firefighters managed to break into the wall and rescue the moggy.
As an early preview, next Friday is one of the much looked forward to Christmas events, when Lewes Fire Station have their Open Evening. The crews are putting on a show for local families, with homemade food and drink, lots of information to stay safe over Christmas, recruiting new firefighters and volunteers and the Mayor will be switching on the Christmas lights; fun for all the family and Borough Commander Garry Collins extends a warm welcome to the local community and ESFRS staff.
ESFRS will be supporting Small Business Saturday this weekend where we will be promoting small companies in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove to check their fire safety plans and make sure they have a backup business continuity plan if disaster should strike. Figures from the British Insurance Broker's Association show that nearly 80% of businesses fail to recover if they have a major fire, flood or other disaster and close within 18 months, with a loss of local jobs and an impact on the local economy; we want to do all we can to support local business in the words of Arkwright, to keep them 'Open all Hours'.