Friday, 28 February 2014

Chief's blog 28th February 2014

The recovery phase of the flooding across much of the South West and South East of England is continuing with a number of Fire & Rescue Services from across England still deployed in those areas affected. The response of the Fire & Rescue Service and firefighters has been fantastic with crews deployed away from home for many days, demonstrating the effectiveness of the national resilience arrangements. However, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned following the largest ever mobilisation of Fire & Rescue Services at what is a very large scale civil emergency, with a centrally coordinated debrief now underway. 

We need to maintain that the Fire & Rescue Service has the ability and capability to respond to unpredictable or extreme weather events and other large scale emergencies. The recent floods have shown just what we can do in such circumstances, to mitigate the impact on local communities, many who have clearly suffered a great deal over the past few weeks.

My recent visit to Uganda with the NHS has shown me how resourceful other nations can be, and that our approach in engaging local people is no different in Uganda where, at the present time, they only collect about 70% of the blood they need for transfusions.  I met Dr. Issac who had lost his left arm after a car accident, as he waited for surgery. There was not enough blood available to take him into theatre and by the time blood arrived, the surgeon had to amputate his arm at the shoulder. Any later and Dr Issac would probably not be here today, but if the blood had been available when required, there would have been no need to amputate. 

I also spoke to people who had lost family members through malaria, a significant cause of anaemia and requiring blood transfusions. Many of those suffering malaria are under the age of five and therefore preventing infection through the use of mosquito nets is vital. We were working with leaders across the Ugandan Blood Transfusion Service and Ugandan Red Cross to support their work, and helping their work with partners in government and non-governmental organisations to help fund longer term health projects. 

The Winter Olympics have come to an end with another successful outcome for the GB team. Although there wasn't a hatful of medals, you could see the commitment and determination of the GB team, epitomised by Elise Christie our highly rated speed skater, who was disqualified in all three events she competed in.  This young lady would have trained enormously hard over the past four years and sacrificed a huge amount simply to make the Olympic squad. Elise deserves to be recognised as a role model and for being an Olympian she is an inspiration to us all.

My week:

  • Spoke with the Chairman and Vice Chair to discuss Fire Authority business and discussions Cllr. Howson has had with his colleagues at West Sussex and Surrey where they are directing their Fire & Rescue Services to work much more closely together, to share working arrangements, facilities and buildings. Discussions will continue at a political level to consider what options for closer working and integration elected members want to progress.
  • Continuing to work on the Sussex Control Centre with a target to 'go-live’ this summer, the project team is making excellent progress on integrating the two existing systems and standard operational procedures.
  • Discussed outline proposals being put forward by Uckfield Town Council, the local authority and developers, who are considering a redevelopment of the area adjacent to, and including, the existing community fire station. ESFRS are involved in discussions and will keep staff updated when any proposals come forward.
  • Completed our work in Uganda with a presentation to regional government officials, local community leaders and representatives from the Red Cross and the Blood Transfusion Service. It was a real pleasure to work with Ugandan health care professionals who work in extremely difficult conditions but are absolutely determined to help local communities and put their patients at the heart of everything they do - a real privilege for me to be invited to work in Uganda.
  • Met with colleagues at Ashridge on an Executive Coaching Course. As is the case with all staff in ESFRS, I have an annual appraisal and this can lead to me undertaking professional development in my role as CFO&CE. I worked with a number of highly experienced professionals including psychologists, therapists and coaches including one of the GB Olympic Team high performance coaches. This is helping me to reflect on my own leadership, how I think through challenges and team-working.
  • Discussion with a number of colleagues from other Services on how they are dealing with the financial challenges and savings targets we are all having to make. A number of Fire & Rescue Services have already introduced new ways of working including day crewed plus, duty systems and crewing specialist appliances. It is helpful to share experiences and to learn from those Services who have already implemented change.
  • Meeting with national HR and L&OD committee to discuss the introduction of the Fire Professional Framework, fitness and occupational health standards, qualifications, working with the Fire Service College, pension consultations, abatement, RDS issues including work in Lincolnshire Fire & Rescue Service which has looked at the role of firefighters on different duty systems, supporting our workforce over the next four years as Fire & Rescue Services reduce establishments and draft Compensation Regulations in cases of redundancy.
  • Attended a meeting at the University of Bath where we considered their research report into fitness standards for firefighters. This is the result of 18 months’ work looking at the physical demands on firefighters, leading to evidence based fitness standards which it is hoped will be published later this year.

Firefighters and support staff across ESFRS take part in lots of charitable fundraising events every year with money raised going to very worthwhile causes. The Firefighters Charity is very dear to all of us, with a number of staff and their families benefiting from the first class rehabilitation and care facilities provided by the charity. Over the next few weeks, firefighters across the country will take part in the National Car Wash, raising much needed funds for our own charity, with Bexhill opening their doors on 8th March and Roedean and Battle doing the same on 15th March.  Please go along and support your colleagues, get all soaped up and frothy for a very good cause, clean lots of cars, have fun and help support the Firefighters Charity.

We are also delighted to support International Women's Day on 6th March and will be having access to a live streamed event on 'Gender Intelligence - Science of Communication.'  The screening will be held at two venues the IT Suite at Headquarters and Meeting Room 2 at the Service Training Centre between 12.00 -13.30 hrs next Thursday and these include interviews with inspirational speakers including Kelly Hoppen MBE (Interior Designer and Dragon from Dragon's Den,) Ben Shephard, TV presenter, Collette Dunkley, Strategic Communications Advisor and Simon Fanshawe, Co-founder of Stonewall. 

Great news about Newhaven Community Fire Station as we have launched a public consultation on the new fire station. It is a really innovative design, and is part of a joint collaboration with Sussex Police and Lewes District Council.  If everything goes to plan, we would hope to be building later this year and opening a new station at the end of 2015. This is a really exciting development for ESFRS and for the community in Newhaven and the surrounding area.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Chief's blog 21st February 2014

It has been a very hectic few days, starting with Friday's Fire Authority meeting. It was good to see a number of staff in the public area and listening to the debate.  The Fire Authority has agreed to raise Council Tax for the coming year, but they were mindful of pressures on local tax payers and the Government threshold for raising Council Tax. The Authority agreed by a majority decision to raise Council Tax by 1.94% which will see a rise of £1.59 per year per Band D household.  This will also provide additional funding into the base budget and the assumptions we are now working to is that the Fire Authority will continue to raise Council Tax for the next four years by 1.94% which, when taking into account the cuts to our Government grant still requires ESFRS to make savings of approximately £7million over the next five years.  The uncertainty remains that the Authority, for whatever reason, does not raise Council Tax in future years, and with a General Election in 2015, nothing is agreed until it is agreed!  The Authority also agreed to consult on plans for service delivery and they will make a final decision on what changes they will introduce to ESFRS over the five year period to 2019, once the consultation concludes.  This is a tough time for the Authority as they have limited options with the size of the savings we have to make and therefore, change is inevitable, but it is our intention to have a sustainable and resilient Service in place, and delivering a high quality community safety service right across the county and city, within the budget available.

A number of our crews have been doing some fantastic work supporting the flood relief efforts in Surrey and the Thames Valley. East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service has seen our High Volume Pump (HVP) and specialist water rescue teams deployed, along with a number pumping appliances, as part of a major mobilisation of fire and rescue services, to help the response and recovery work across the South West and South East.  At one time all 51 HVPs from England and Wales were either being used or mobilised to stand-by, and more than 60 special water rescue teams were deployed. The Emergency Room was set up on Wednesday and I was involved as the duty National Strategic Advisor, working with the National Co-ordination Centre based at the London Fire Brigade’s Control Centre, National Resilience Unit based at the College and the Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor. The teams worked brilliantly to get resources from across the country to where they were needed and this has proved the benefit of national resilience arrangements. I must pay a compliment to the many firefighters and officers from across the country who have been working long hours in what are very difficult circumstances, and to our crews from ESFRS who were part of these efforts. I believe the Fire and Rescue Service has shown the real value and benefits we add to community safety and recovery as well as national resilience.

This will only be a brief blog, as I am away in Uganda with the NHS; this is part of an on-going project to increase blood donations across Uganda and more importantly to help reduce malaria which is a huge killer particularly of young children.  The NHS do some fantastic work out in sub Saharan Africa and I am playing my small bit to support their efforts, meeting teams out on the ground in rural Northern Uganda, helping to support their team leaders and meeting with senior officials to take about how they may be able to improve blood donations and the use of blood in clinics and hospitals.  This work really makes a difference and I have met some absolutely dedicated people in the NHS, the Ugandan Red Cross and the Ugandan Blood Transfusion Service.

I have also managed to keep up-to-date on general work matters when we've been in the rural clinics, as occasionally we got access to WiFi and often better than we have in glorious Sussex!

We've been having discussions with Remsdaq on the Sussex Control Project which is continuing to make progress.  We will over the next few weeks and months see a number of our existing staff in Chichester and Eastbourne either retire or leave on voluntary redundancy.  This will be difficult for some who have all given fantastic service to the public across Sussex and I would firstly like to thank them for their Service with WSFRS and ESFRS and offer them all our very best wishes for their future.

Our work with Surrey Fire and Police is progressing and earlier this week our Chairman Cllr. Howson met with his opposite numbers in West Sussex (Cllr Barnard) and Surrey (Cllr Hammond) to look at further opportunities for closer integration.  The recent response to the flooding has clearly shown that major civil emergencies require a joint response, close cooperation and effective command arrangements.  I look forward to contributing to the debrief and any review of the response to the floods so that we can learn lessons and look to improve our community response and resilience arrangements.

Very sad to hear the news that Firefighter Clifford Cox had collapsed at Staines Fire Station and despite the best efforts of his close colleagues who attempted to resuscitate him, he died on the fire station; our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Chief's Blog 14th February

Congratulations to our newest sporting star Jenny Jones for a great bronze medal in the Sochi Olympics. Jenny was brilliant in the slopestyle snowboard competition and showed how sheer determination to succeed brings its rewards in the end. This could have been my other career but the sensible head took over when I was younger; too late for regrets, but definitely must make more time to ski before the knees completely pack up!  

The unrelenting rain is causing major problems across large parts of Southern England with areas around the Thames really suffering. Firefighters, Environmental Agency staff, police officers and other responders supported by military personnel are doing a valiant job but such a wide scale and unpredictable event is enormously difficult to co-ordinate.  Many householders, farmers and small businesses have seen their properties flooded, but there is little opportunity to shift the water until river levels subside. As always in these situations, communication is crucial to warn and inform and our crews in ESFRS have been on stand-by to support the relief efforts in other parts of the country that are more badly affected.  

More rain is predicted and we have our own plans in place to respond to any flooding across the county and City.  A report this week shows that just over 97% of police officers have passed their annual fitness test, although I found it interesting to note the headline that stated 'hundreds of police officers had failed their fitness test'. I would have thought that a 97% pass rate was very high and that this was a positive story for the police, but the media chose to highlight a 3% failure rather than a 97% success.  

Many of the reports about the flooding have emphasised the 'poor' or 'ineffective' response, and yet across the country, firefighters, police officers, ambulance personnel, environment agency staff, public utilities, emergency planners and many others including military personnel, have done a fantastic job in very challenging circumstances.  For those householders, farmers and businesses who have suffered, it must be enormously difficult, but this should not detract from the responders on the ground who have worked in difficult conditions and I have been speaking to Network Rail staff who have been out overnight, restoring the overhead cables and clearing the tracks in high winds and storms.  Power line staff working for the electricity companies have been out in some of the most difficult conditions to restore power, but with little praise or acknowledgement in the media; so I am going to use this blog to say 'thank you' to all those staff who have been working to help our local communities in some of the worst winter storms we have ever seen across the UK.

My week:

  • Had a series of media interviews with press, radio and TV who all wanted to discuss the budget proposals, Council Tax and changes to the Service; some interesting questions particularly from local radio stations; the interviews should now have been broadcast.
  •  Met with Becky Shaw, Chief Executive of East Sussex County Council to talk about the public health agenda and how we could work together to promote health to local communities, also discussed emergency planning, financial services, review of estate and joint working with Surrey County Council, Sussex and Surrey Police and neighbouring FRSs.
  •  Over the weekend we were in discussion with the National Co-ordination Centre to discuss the HVP going down to Somerset. Many thanks for firefighters who made themselves available, although in the end our crews were not required. Our HVP and Water Safety specialist crews are part of the national support arrangements and may be requested to respond to any part of the UK where a major emergency occurs and with the bad weather set to continue, crews may find themselves responding out of the county.
  •  Went to the National Police College in Bramshill to speak to their Senior Command Course about the political perspective and the role of the Chief Officer; a really interesting group of future Chief Constables. I also talked about personal resilience, the pressures when you are the Chief and that it can be a lonely place; I was followed by Kevin Hurley the PCC for Surrey and very interesting to hear that what I had been saying from a Chief Officers perspective was borne out by what the PCC had to say - how long before PCCs are running the Fire & Rescue Service?
  •  Spent much of the morning trying to dissect the information from DCLG on our grant, business rates, council tax freeze grants and other specific grants from Government; then looked at what this meant for East Sussex Fire Authority and what the predictions were for not only this year, but for next year. T Fire Authority will be considering carefully today as they set their budget.
  • Meeting with the FBU to discuss a new manual note. A very helpful discussion and I was able to clarify a number of issues; also discussed recent flooding events and whether the FRS should ask for a statutory duty for flooding incidents. My own view is that if we were given a statutory duty, there would be no additional funding, but there would be a greater expectation placed upon the FRS to respond. We have suggested to Government that they should have one organisation responsible for coordinating the response to flooding, but the FRS do not want a statutory duty to respond.
  •  Discussion with staff on whether ESFRS should do more co-responding and generate income from doing this; whilst a number of Ambulance Trusts have asked local FRS to co-respond and make payment for this SECAmb do not want to do this in East Sussex, as they prefer to recruit community responders.  We are continuing to liaise with SECAmb to see whether there would be a benefit for public health if ESFRS responded to cardiac arrests and other types of emergency trauma as we have a number of trained personnel who could provide an immediate response to help preserve and save lives.
  •  Met with CFO Sean Ruth from WSFRS to discuss progress on the Sussex Control Centre; our staff have been working to support the development of the software for the new mobilising system and we wanted to look at progress against the agreed plan, future preparations for the 'factory acceptance tests' interim plans and the 'go-live' date.  Then met with the MD from Remsdaq, the company who are building our new mobilising system; they are working closely with our teams in East and West Sussex and announcements on our plans and the 'go live' date will be made in early March 2014.Discussion with the Chairman and Vice-Chair in preparation for the Fire Authority meeting; this is a hectic time of the year as the Fire Authority need to agree the budget so that we can prepare our Council Tax plans.  There has been a lot of lobbying both locally and nationally about Council Tax and on Tuesday, East Sussex County Council set a Council Tax at 1.95%; District and Borough Councils and Sussex Police are also setting their Council Tax levels.  Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities has previously stated that authorities should take a freeze grant offered by Government.
  •  Went up to take over at the Emergency Room where we are helping to co-ordinate and support the FRS response to flooding; spoke with all FRSs in SW and SE Regions who are affected by flooding, looking to support a co-ordinated strategy to pump water away from flooded areas; helicopters and RAF Tornado used for aerial reconnaissance. Twenty HVPs committed with 15 in Cornwall and Devon & Somerset and 11 different FRSs sending firefighters and pumps to assist flooding response in Royal Berkshire. ESFRS mobilising HVP to Surrey to support flood recovery work.

More storms on the way for Friday and Saturday with up to 80mm of rain in some areas and snow on the higher ground in the North and Scotland.  This year the Scottish ski resorts have been blessed with fabulous snow conditions and this is the only thing that ever makes me wish I had been born in the Highlands. Just think, every weekend during the winter you could be out shredding the powder; the downside of course is that you would have to support Stenhousemuir or Inverness Caledonian Thistle; strong winds up to gale force expected in the South so prepare to batten down the hatches tomorrow night!  

Very sad to hear earlier this week that a firefighter had collapsed and died at the scene of a car fire in Lurgan, N. Ireland; our thoughts and prayers are with the family and colleagues in N. Ireland FRS

Friday, 7 February 2014

CFO's blog 7 Feb 2014

It is a bit of a British obsession to talk about the weather but it continues to dominate the news for very good reasons. Our crews across the county have been responding to many weather-related incidents. The storms and high seas have caused a lot of damage along the coast with a large section of the cliff falling into the sea at Birling Gap. 

On Thursday our very own Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, took over whilst Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is in hospital, with Eric now co-ordinating the response to the current situation.  Whilst we have had our fair share of rain in the South-East, it is the South West and parts of West Wales that has taken a real battering, and as for the community on the Somerset Levels, they have had to endure flooded properties and roads for more than six weeks.  Devon & Somerset FRS and other community responders have done a fantastic job, but I am sure many lessons will have been learnt, and I remain unconvinced that you can co-ordinate the response from a basement in Whitehall.  There seems to me to be a compelling argument for one organisation to have overall responsibility for organising and co-ordinating the response on the ground, and to have the authority if necessary to bring in military support without going through the labyrinth of government departments for permission.  I await the report into the 2013/14 flooding with interest.  

With more severe weather expected this weekend, the likelihood of an early display of daffodils is receding, so the Welsh rugby fans travelling this week to Dublin will have to make do with a bunch of leeks.  We also have the Winter Olympics to look forward to with Team GB expected to take home a few medals; with all this rain I am very envious of the snow over in Russia, but will have to content myself with being an armchair viewer for the next fortnight.

We also had industrial action in the headlines with the RMT striking on the London Underground. Advances in technology are reducing jobs, with Transport for London moving away from ticket offices and to machines. I can understand the business rationale, but there is still something reassuring about having a person to speak to when you need an answer.  And even at that most magical of places, Stamford Bridge where you used to hand your ticket into 'Bert' at the turnstile, Chelsea introduced automatic turnstiles some years ago. However, at each turnstile there are now two people to help you make sure you put your ticket in the right way round or scan the barcode correctly, so not much saving there!  Quite clearly, 'Bert' was more cost effective, and for ten bob he would let you nip over the turnstile; the machines just don't get the false economy!

Brilliant TV on Monday evening as a bunch of sky blue, (some would say) overpaid and overrated players were put firmly in their place by the cool dudes from South West London. Poetry in motion and not a peep from Arsenal who has just realised another trophy-less  season is on the cards.

My week:

* Met with Chairman and Vice Chair ahead of the Fire Authority meeting next week along with the Treasurer and legal advisor. We have some tough decisions ahead as we look to balance the needs of the community with a drop in funding from Government. 

* Met with ESFA Auditors Ernst & Young who are finalising their audit report for the Fire Authority and also looking at how we are making plans for the financial challenges over the next two years. They have been impressed with the work of the Service in managing our budgets and containing costs and looking at opportunities to deliver savings, keep costs down and improve procurement; well done to everyone.

*. It has been a busy couple of weeks coaching as I met with a senior clinician from the NHS who wanted to talk through the issues of managing conflict in teams and how to keep a major project on track when some people are promoting different agendas.

*. Visited Haywards Heath for a meeting with POs; saw Peter Fishenden who was in need of a cup of tea and a choccy biscuit! The team are doing great work at the new Sussex Control Centre.  Met with the Joint Oversight Group involving politicians and senior officers. We report to the elected members of ESFA and WSCC on a quarterly basis to update then on the progress of work and they are keen to look at wider work with Surrey FRS, Sussex and Surrey Police and SECAmb.

* Telephone conference call with a colleague from Zurich who works for a multi-national insurance company. We discussed leadership in the private and public sector, managing change and how you continue to support your staff in very challenging circumstances.

*BA refresher at STC, thanks to Brin and Craig for coming in for a very early start and for setting up a good exercise to assess BA procedures, door opening, hose management, search and rescue, casualty evacuation and use of the thermal imaging camera. Also, thanks to my partner, good gauge checks; please to say we got the 'thumbs up'!! Great sausage sandwich in the mess as well!

*Prepared for a meeting later this week with Chief Executive of County Council where we are considering emergency planning, sharing buildings and services and also how we can provide further support to community safety. There is now an opportunity for ESFRS personnel to use their knowledge, skills and reputation to not only improve fire and road safety, but also to get more involved in the healthcare agenda when we are out in the community, and supporting and advising on the challenge of obesity, diabetes and drink and drug abuse which are putting an intolerable strain on health budgets. Firefighters and CFS staff are already getting involved in some of this work and we can now look at further opportunities to work with the County Council on local healthcare issues.

*Had meeting with external group including DCLG, NJC employers and National Equality & Inclusion lead. We had update on pension discussions, Bath University research on fitness standards, cross sector leadership, proposals for enhancements to redundancy payments, developments of standards and qualifications for fire safety professionals and Fire & Rescue services complying with the equality framework.

* Met with colleagues from two other FRSs who are working on what they describe as a 'strategic alliance' which could lead to a merger; they were very keen to learn from our work on a merger with WSFRS, political engagement, equalisation of Council Tax, support from government and how savings can be achieved.

*Quarterly negotiating meeting with FBU to discuss budget proposals, absence management, Sussex Control Project and industrial dispute; these are always helpful meetings and provide an opportunity for open dialogue.

*Had meeting at HQ with Asian Fire Services Association and researcher from Middlesex University to look at equality and inclusion in the FRS and how the culture has improved over the past decades. Discussed implications for the NHS after the report into failings in Mid-Staffs NHS Trust and lessons we can learn about the service we deliver to local people.

This week I also drove down to Gloucester to see our old colleague Jon Hall at his retirement function. There was a great turnout for Jon with a few from ESFRS enjoying the evening and listening to Nick Greenwood (ex-Preston Circus) talk about Jon's time on Red Watch, pitching a ladder upside down and the infamous 'it's only steam' informative message which became a 'six pumper'; lots of tales about KFC which seems to be a staple diet for Jon, Billy Brewster and Richard Charman (although never, never send Tony Gurr out to get a KFC) and chicken dippers in the Draeger Board Room.

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