Friday, 17 January 2014

Our thoughts this week are with the family and friends of a man who lost his life after a fire in Eastbourne last Saturday. Crews wearing BA and using hose reels entered the property, rescuing the casualty and extinguishing the blaze, but unfortunately he did not survive the effects of the fire. It is always incredibly sad when – despite the best efforts of all those involved – emergencies end in the loss of life.

Firefighters worked equally hard at another incident this week. Crews from Bexhill, Bohemia Road and The Ridge were called out to a flat fire in St. Leonards on Saturday night where they rescued five people, one casualty was treated at the scene by paramedics. Firefighters wearing BA, using hosereels and CAFS put out the fire.  Mention must also be made of the vital fire survival advice given by our Control room staff over the phone to those caught in the incident.  All in all it was a real team effort in difficult conditions.

On the other side of the world, I see our colleagues in the Australian Fire Services are battling huge bush fires.  I spoke with one of my friends in the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade who described the extent of the fires they have been fighting in South Australia and Victoria. This week in Melbourne, temperatures have reached 41 Celsius, that's 107 Fahrenheit and far in excess of anything we have ever experienced in the UK. I have a great admiration for our Aussie firefighter colleagues, having been out to see the bushfires when I was in Australia a few years ago, and it was really interesting to look at incident command and communications when fighting fires over such a large area.

Very sad to hear one of the most popular, and well-known, actors who has given us so many laughs, sadly lost his battle against cancer and passed away this week. Roger Lloyd-Pack, whilst best known for his portrayal of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses and Owen Newitt in that other classic, the Vicar of Dibley, he was a great character actor and I remember seeing him in the West End theatre. I'm sure everyone will have their favourite Trigger moment and the scene when Del Boy fell through the bar has to be one of the best!
My week:

*. met with the Chairman, Vice Chair and Treasurer to discuss our budget proposals and to look at the most up to date information on Council Tax and Government grant.  The Fire Authority will not make final decisions until next month. Although the Policy & Resources Panel make recommendations, there is pressure from Government not to raise council tax but to take the freeze grant offered (we have not raised council tax for 3 years) and we are still trying to get the precise figures on our grant cut.

*. had discussions with the Leader of East Sussex County Council and arranged to meet with County Councillors to brief them on the range of IRMP proposals being considered by the Fire Authority. Also had a discussion with West Sussex FRS following their announcement of budget reductions and savings to be made on all services in West Sussex with some Councillors asking why the proposed merger did not go ahead.

*. briefing from Richard Fowler on proposals for a partnership to refurbish higher risk residential flats with sprinklers which the Fire Authority would 'match fund' out of capital. Both Derbyshire and South Yorkshire FRSs have already been involved in similar projects and this has greatly enhanced the safety for local residents in higher risk premises. Richard along with our fire engineering team have done some excellent work drawing up a risk assessment method, identified a number of blocks of residential flats that would be ideal to install sprinklers and we are now working with the relevant local authorities to progress.

*. Media interviews with BBC Surrey & Sussex FM, Sovereign FM and also with a reporter from the Argus. All wanted to know about budget proposals and whether there would be any reductions to the Service. We explained that the Fire Authority had already made decisions at their December meeting and we are currently talking with staff about these decisions and that further discussions will take place at the February meeting alongside agreeing the budget for next year. Staff will be updated as soon as any decisions are made, but decisions already taken in 2013/14 mean that we should be in a healthy position for the coming year.

*. met with Neal Robinson to discuss firesetter advisors and in particular whether we are continuing our previous work with our adult firesetter advisors. Neal will be meeting with other organisations who refer firesetter advisors to ESFRS and also meeting with staff who have been involved in the scheme. I recently met with Steve Burgoyne at Uckfield, who is a very experienced advisor and has been involved in some very difficult and challenging work which has made a real difference to people's lives. ESFRS is absolutely committed to delivering the very best community safety service we can and need to ensure our resources are properly matched to the demands placed upon us, but I do want to pay a special thanks to all involved in our firesetter advisor schemes as they have all done fantastic work.

*. meeting with the Treasurer to look at the future of financial services as our current provider East Sussex County Council are moving to a shared service with Surrey, we will need to consider all future options.

*. meeting at the Fire Service College where we looked at some exciting new developments including an incident command simulator where the OIC wears a pair of '3D Goggles' and can see themselves on a 'live' incident ground where they are able to move around, deploy crews, watch fire development or suppression depending on their decisions and the crews actions, this was very innovative and has borrowed ideas from the games industry.

* had a meeting of Cross Sector Leadership Exchange and a new CFOA working group of leaders from across the Service. We are putting together a programme of 6 leadership development events in 2014 with the theme of 'public value' and asking for students to work on challenging cross sector projects.

* attended the Fire & Rescue Council meeting where we discussed national guidance, qualifications for fire safety officers, better procurement, relationship with Government and funding. We also looked at how we could work with the College to improve training opportunities for staff and how the College could deliver some parts of their training at local training centres or through the web.

*. busy day at HQ with meetings of the Scrutiny & Audit Panel and the Policy & Resources Panel. Members first discussed the IIP Assessors Report, Corporate Risk Register, Auditors Report on Leave and Quarterly Performance, then moved to look at the current revenue budget and were assured that we would not overspend in the current financial year. We then looked at the proposals for our forthcoming budget including the freeze grant being offered by DCLG and then considered the implications of any council tax rise. No decisions were made, but the P&R Panel agreed to recommend that the Fire Authority consider all options at their meeting next month where they will set the final budget.

Crews from Wadhurst were called out to assist their colleagues from Kent at a collision involving two vehicles in Frant. Firefighters used hydraulic cutting equipment to free the casualty who was then treated at the scene by paramedics. 

Firefighters from Roedean and Preston Circus were called out to a collision involving a lorry and a car where crews extricated two casualties from the car under the supervision of paramedics. 

An incident in Woodingdean saw firefighters from Newhaven and Roedean respond to reports of a kitchen fire. Firefighters wearing BA and using hosereels extinguished the fire then used a PPV fan to clear smoke from the property, also providing one casualty with oxygen therapy. 

Speaking to staff in M&CC on Thursday they mentioned that ESFRS had not received any 999 calls overnight, this is very unusual but is part of the trend of declining calls over the last decade and should be celebrated as a great success of our community safety work.  Fires and other emergency calls are continuing to reduce which means that our communities must be safer and this as something we can all be proud off. However, we should never be complacent as only three weeks ago on Christmas Eve, M&CC received over 200 calls in a 24 hour period. This proved just how well our Control room staff can work under huge pressure, helping keep the public safe and ensuring the right resources are in the right place at the right time.
This week I met with the Comms team, who highlighted the growth in different ways of communicating – our Twitter and Facebook accounts for example now have thousands of people reading them each day.  The team is also reviewing how we communicate internally as we have lots of different tools – the intranet, email and face to face briefings. A survey will be circulated in the coming weeks so staff can tell us their views.

So I am now asking for feedback on the Blog which I have been writing on a weekly basis for some time now, and to find out whether it is worth continuing. The suggestion is that I wind down the Blog by the end of March and use social media more. The original purpose of the Blog was to give staff a bit of an insight into what I do, to discuss some topical things both inside and outside the Service, to let me talk about personal things like Chelsea and Northern Soul and to also talk about things that are happening in ESFRS but if people prefer other communication channels, then it is only right that we review the Blog. I do know there are a number of people outside ESFRS who read this and I am very happy to continue, but I am very much guided by whether it is still of interest to you. If you have any feedback please contact Matt Lloyd

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