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