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.