I hope you all had great Christmas and New Year and had the opportunity to spend some time with family and friends. The New Year is always a time for optimism, where you can reflect back on the previous year, which for all of us will have been one invariably of mixed blessings. However, it is now the opportunity to look forward and see what 2014 will bring and what you will do to make and shape your year.
I am now starting my 38th year in the Fire & Rescue Service with my first day on duty being 31st December 1976 and I can still remember the excitement and enthusiasm I had starting what was my first real job and one that has remained special to me ever since. I just love being in the Fire & Rescue Service and have met so many great and interesting people throughout my career.
One of the places where I made long lasting friendships was the Fire Service College; it is an absolutely brilliant asset with some of the best operational training facilities in the world and where you meet firefighters from across the country and learn simply by talking to them. This year I hope we can work with the new owners to really make the college the world leading training and development academy for the emergency services, and where current and future generations of Fire & Rescue Service staff will continue to benefit from attending.
Last year, I was also delighted to see Fire & Rescue Services working with NHS blood and organ donation and saw NHS stands at many of our open days. Sadly, too many people are desperately in need of donated organs and unfortunately many will die, still waiting to receive donated organs; and our reserves blood supplies are lower than we need. Firefighters see at firsthand the seriousness of injuries at operational incidents with burns victims needing blood transfusions and skin grafts and those they rescue from road traffic collisions sometimes suffering organ failure.
Anything we can do to support the NHS blood and organ donation will save lives and I hope ESFRS will once again be at the forefront of life safety initiatives. I know quite a number of our staff give up their own time to support Operation Florian in helping to train firefighters in Macedonia and parts of Africa. In 2014, some of our firefighters and volunteers will be off to Moldova to help train firefighters and deliver equipment. It is a fantastic development opportunity for our staff and I know they come back really enthused but sometimes a little bit humbled when they see just how poorly equipped other colleagues are in some other countries.
I didn't watch too much TV over Christmas, apart from the classic Toy Story - Buzz and Woody are truly great stars of the screen but I think Mr Potato Head is the coolest and has some great 'one-liners'. However, if you want to hear something really inspiring listen to the iPlayer on Radio 4 and the interviews with Dr David Nott; truly inspiring surgeon who every year spends some time working in war zones in the most horrendous conditions, simply because he sees this as his duty. He helps to train local doctors and they save hundreds of people.
The NHS are training up a thousand doctors this year who have volunteered to support this work with organisations such as Medecins sans Frontieres and the International Red Cross. Have a listen to Dr Nott and I guarantee you will be inspired.
On a much lighter note, I was inspired by the superb performance by the super blues against Liverpool and I did have a laugh. I understand the Reds, who have always had an over inflated opinion of themselves, were really pleased with themselves because they were top of the league for about six hours. Well, we did have a bit of a giggle when we looked at the league table and saw they were where they rightly belong, battling with the Toffees of Everton to see who will be top dog on Merseyside and they'll be lucky to get a place in the Channel 5 Cup next season. And as for Spurs (one win doesn't make you a good team!), Newcastle and that upstart Southampton, normal service will be resumed in the second half of the season! But credit where it's due, the Seagulls are making steady progress and could get into the play-offs which would be a good return after the turbulence of 'life after Gus'.
My last couple of weeks
- Still trying to support the discussions on the pensions dispute; not sure where DCLG and the FBU are in their discussion but this dispute needs to be resolved soon.
- Preparing for meetings with the Fire Authority over the next six weeks; important time as we must agree and set a budget for 2014/15. Still some uncertainty about the precise cut to our grant and limitations on council tax; not clear on our Council Tax base, how much we will lose from the reductions in Council Tax rebates and how much business rates we will get; no doubt I will need a really sharp pencil!
- Continuing to refine plans to make our savings over the next five years and we will be discussing our options for how we structure our operational, community safety and protection services. The Fire Authority will publish their plans in the next few weeks and when we need to make the savings; I am optimistic for next year and we should be OK, although it's not done until it's done.
- Having to make adjustments to our financial plans to take account of additional costs caused by RDS pensions and also what is now deemed to be pensionable pay; both of these issues will bring additional costs to all FRSs and are the result of either legal rulings or new national agreements which will have some backdated costs. Either way, it is a bit of a headache and the Director of Financial Services will be circulating an update once we have clarity on the issues.
- I have visited a number of fire stations over the past two weeks and also been to Control Centres in Eastbourne and Chichester. A great opportunity to catch up with staff and now I know where the Power Watt bike is. I think this would be more useful at HQ! I have also found out it is possible to get 15 marshmallows in your mouth; I'm not sure what benefit this provides or whether it helps you to float if you fall into deep water, but it did seem to occupy the time of one watch!
- There have been three periods of industrial action over the last 11 days, thankfully there were no serious incidents and I am extremely grateful for the contingency crews and RDS who were on duty during the strikes.
Crews and in particular our mobilising staff, have been busy responding to a variety of incidents over the past two weeks.
Both in Eastbourne and Chichester Control Rooms staff having been taking many weather-related calls with the peak during the storms over Christmas Eve when each control room received over 250 emergency calls.
Firefighters have been busy across the county and city responding to flooding, storm damaged properties, fallen trees and collapsed scaffolding.
Crews from Hove were called out to an emergency at Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve requiring the HVP to help keep on-site substations from flooding. Thankfully, there has been a significant reduction in the number of property fires across all areas, which is a great credit to our operational and CFS staff and our volunteers, who have been out in our communities every day providing home safety advice. It is important we continue this fantastic community safety work in 2014 with our local authority and health partners, to really make a difference in improving public safety and health.
This weekend we are expecting some more rain and the potential of flooding in some parts of the county. A 'Major Incident' was declared in the West Country on Thursday and we have stepped up preparations through the Local Resilience Forum and any requests for additional national assets will be co-ordinated through the agreed national arrangements.
Finally, as a little test, can you name the 'BRIC' countries; well when you have done that, name the 'MINT' countries; these have been identified as the newest emerging economies but which one is linked to the Ivory Coast through a superstar footballer?