Friday, 28 March 2014

Chief's blog 28th March

Terrible news this week with the Malaysian Authorities announcing that flight MH370 has been lost with all those on board pronounced as having lost their lives, but the grieving families still wait for confirmation that the plane has been found.  In this world of ultramodern technology, it does seem surprising that the best equipped nations in the world cannot find the missing plane or those who were on board. 

The extreme weather in the USA has resulted in tragic scenes following the mudslide in Oso, Washington State where 24 people are now confirmed dead and with more than 150 people still unaccounted for.  The local Fire Chief Travis Hots has spoken about the difficult scenes his firefighters and other rescuers have faced, but they will work every hour until every person has been found.  Sadly, we also heard that two of our family of firefighters have died at the scene of a warehouse fire at Back Bay, Boston. Firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, part of the first responding crew were pronounced dead at the scene after being rescued from the basement area by other firefighters.  Not a great week of news and I would like to offer my condolences and sympathies to those who are grieving for lost loved ones.

My week:

  • Meeting with PO team to discuss Sussex Control Centre and resilience arrangements. Great work by all the team involved in moving forward what is a major and complex project and also thanks to all our staff in Chichester and Eastbourne for their continuing professionalism through what has been a difficult, and at times, stressful project. Also discussed the development of our IT systems which are crucial for business needs, and the options we have for ensuring our systems meet our future needs.
  • Discussed with Liz Ridley, our Head of Performance Management, the key service indicators we will be monitoring and measuring, alongside key targets to reduce operational response interventions and increase and expand our prevention work in local communities to do all we can to improve safety and community wellbeing.
  • Met with Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor and DCLG officials to discuss the research work by the University of Bath on firefighter fitness standards. This is now nearing conclusion and there is a lot of interest in this work, not only in the UK but also from North America and Japan. The work undertaken to date is extremely comprehensive and robust and will provide clear evidence-based standards for firefighter fitness.
  • Attended a national pensions meeting where we looked at the DCLG’s proposals on contribution rates for the 2015 scheme and the options for those going directly into the 2015 scheme or moving across from the 1992 or 2006 schemes. Also, considered the requirement from HMRC for the new scheme to deliver an average of 13.2% contributions from all members with those on higher salaries paying a higher level of contribution.
  •  Went to Service Training Centre for the quarterly Officer's training day. I am always impressed by the standard of instruction when I go to STC and by the enthusiasm of the staff. I would always recommend STC as a place to work and I have very fond memories of my time as an instructor (although it was a few years ago). Working at a training centre is very demanding, there is little free time and staff often start early and finish late, but it is a very rewarding environment to work in and I would like to say thanks to all of our instructors and those who are seconded to STC for the invaluable contribution you make to ESFRS. It was also good to meet up with West Sussex colleagues who gave a helpful presentation on terrorist attacks and the team they have in WSFRS to respond to terrorist and marauding fire arms incidents.
  • Went across to Rye to see Andy Polley and his crew. It’s always a pleasure to visit Rye, one of the nicest towns in our County. Andy and his crew are always keen to talk about the Service and provide excellent cover as well as a fine selection of biscuits to go with the tea! I also had the pleasure and privilege to speak to Alec Tiltman and David Giles, two firefighters at Rye who were attending their last drill nights as they were retiring. Alec and David have both served for over 31 years, an absolutely incredible achievement. I am always very impressed when I meet wholetime firefighters who have served for 30 years, but to complete more than 30 years as an RDS firefighter is just fantastic and I cannot speak highly enough about our RDS staff who give such commitment to their local community and our Service. Our very best wishes to both Alec and David and thank you for being part of our team and doing so much for public safety.
  • Met up with colleagues from Sussex and Surrey Police, Surrey and West Sussex FRSs and SECAmb at what is the 'Blue Light Transformation Meeting'. There is a pilot project to introduce technology that will speed up the communication between blue light responders and better data sharing to reduce nuisance callers. There is also work going on to see how we can better care for people with mental health problems, which is causing an increasing strain on ambulance and police resources and to see how the FRS can become more involved in supporting public health in local communities.
  • Had a meeting with other senior colleagues to look at the DCLG report on procurement and to see how we can be more efficient in purchasing everything from appliances and equipment to energy, IT and training. We also looked at research into compartment firefighting and the health effects on trainers, how we can become more involved in fitting carbon monoxide detectors and supporting private sector landlords to make premises safer.
  •  Discussed with the Chairman the current consultation on Service transformation and the public meetings we are attending. The key message from the Fire Authority is that the proposals are to ensure we continue to provide our services across the County and City and that if savings are not taken in one area, then additional savings will have to be made elsewhere. The Authority want to ensure the public know that the savings have to be made due to the reduction in Government grant and not that the Fire Authority are reducing their budget.

Congratulations to our new RDS recruits who completed their trainee programme at Maresfield on Friday. I know they have worked hard under the experienced eyes of our instructors and are now ready to join their stations and become part of our great team here in ESFRS. Good luck to all of you and if you are ever in need of inspiration, look no further than Alec Tiltman and David Giles who have just completed more than 31 years serving their local community in Rye and across the County. 

I’d also like to mention another member of the team here in ESFRS who will be retiring at the end of the month.  Richard Charman our Director of Financial Services will be leaving after more than 44 years in the public sector, joining East Sussex County Council in 1970 and the Fire & Rescue Service over 30 years ago.  Richard will be a very hard act to replace, a truly dedicated public servant and an absolute stalwart of ESFRS. On a personal note, I will be very sorry to lose a kind friend and colleague. We have benefited from Richard's knowledge and experience and that is one of the reasons why we have managed to weather many of the financial pressures other Services had already had to deal with.  

This weekend, ESFRS is supporting the Fire Kills - Tick, Tock, Test Campaign to ensure people test their smoke alarms over the weekend when they change their clocks. We have had fantastic success over the past decade in reducing the number of house fires as a result of our home safety visits, we have prevented injuries and certainly we have saved lives through fitting smoke detectors. Our work over the next few years will hopefully include fitting carbon monoxide detectors as well as there is a lot of work being coordinated with major utilities and Carbon Monoxide Awareness. Safety of our communities is our number one priority and all our staff should be very proud of their community safety work.

Finally, can I congratulate Mark Hobbs for a notable first this week  when he grabbed my attention whilst I was training in the gym at HQ and Mark was bashing out the miles next to me. When I train I don’t talk to anyone, I just get on with my training but Mark managed to talk to me for 30 minutes on fire safety regulation, enforcement and a presentation he has recently made, which was very interesting and informative!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Chief's Blog 21st March

This week much news coverage has been devoted to the Malaysian airliner that has disappeared without trace. This must be a hugely stressful time for the families of all who were on the plane, but it does seem rather odd that with all the technology we have at our disposal, sadly the plane's whereabouts remains unknown.  

The death of Tony Benn a few days ago marked the end of one of the great political characters of the 20th century; a great orator and diarist. Benn was one of the last links with the development of much of the public sector that we know today; a passionate speaker, he was someone who both my parents identified with for his socialist principles.  This week we have seen all political parties comment on the budget speech delivered by George Osbourne; it looks like we're in for a year of pre-election speeches and manifesto promises; I think I'm tired already!

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis spoke at the LGA Conference and again stated that Government will not merge any Fire & Rescue Services and will not interfere in local decision-making. They believe it is for local politicians to set out how their local FRS will operate, that there will be no additional funding and that he is confident service transformation will take place that will deliver both the necessary savings and a high performing service. Collaborations with Police and Ambulance Services is very much the Government's  thinking alongside better procurement and making better use of RDS staff. 

This week's budget speech by the Chancellor has as usual, received mixed reviews, and the news on the economy is very positive. However, one key message is that the cuts to public sector spending will continue and our current savings targets will still have to be met.  We will also have a new one pound coin, based very much on the old three pence piece, known as the 'threepenny bit'. Our pre decimalisation coinage seemed to have much more character than the money we have today; I can just about remember the farthing and the 'ha’penny’', then we had the penny, the 'tanner', the 'bob', 'arf a crown' and the 'ten bob note' and if you were really lucky, you might see a 'quid'.  Money is all so dull now, so looking forward to seeing the new one pound coin and to see if it gets a nickname.

My week:

  • Catch up with Chairman after the LGA Fire Conference; East Sussex will be organising a conference for the Combined Fire Authorities in October where members want to discuss funding, collaborations, closer integration with Ambulance Services and resilience. Also seeking to have a clear vision for the fire & rescue sector and to be more influential on government policy.
  •  Liaising with the blood transfusion service to see how FRSs can assist support blood and organ donation; looking at how we can work with local collection teams at open days and whether we can use fire stations as blood donation centres.Met with the Fire Service College to look at how they design training programmes, the link to national occupational standards, training and competence of instructors and a quality assurance process; the College are looking to provide training directly for local FRSs and have already put a lot of new investment into the College site at Moreton. It is in all our interests for the College to be successful and to provide high quality training for FRS personnel at a cost that recognises the financial pressures we face.
  •  Went to see students on the Executive Leadership Programme (ELP) and spoke to them about personal resilience, the challenges that face senior leaders and my own personal experiences of working with elected members, trade unions and the media and how this can affect you both at work and at home. The ELP students will be leading the Service over the next few years and part of the programme is to raise their awareness and understanding of the role.
  •  Gave a presentation to senior officers from across the UK to update them on occupational health and fitness, national occupational standards, the review of the ASPIRE leadership model, conditions of service, cross sector leadership, employee relations issues and work with Skills for Justice. HR and Organisational development will play a significant role as FRSs continue to move towards different models of service deliver; a number of FRSs are now responding to significant numbers of ambulance calls, either as co or first responders with others working more closely with Police Services. The Government's response to Sir Ken Knight's report is about to be published and it will be interesting to see their expectations of our Service in light of Sir Ken's comments.
  •  Discussion with finance colleagues on implications of Chancellor's budget statement; will need further time to look at implications but continuing pressure on public sector costs. Lots of encouragement for future growth with the High Speed 2 train at the centre of economic regeneration.
  •  Was at Ashridge Management College with NHS colleagues; earlier this week it was announced that blood supplies particularly of O- and B- were at low levels and the NHS are encouraging new donors to come forward particularly from some community groups where traditionally, blood and organ donation is low. ESFRS have run a number of community initiatives encouraging people to become blood and organ donors and hopefully as we start our community open days, we can get more people to sign up and help to save a life.

Over the last two weekends, crews from across ESFRS have been out raising funds for the Firefighters Charity with car washes at a number of our community fire stations. A big thank you to everyone who took part and helped out, with all the funds raised being put to great use.  I hope that none of our staff have to call on the Firefighters Charity, but it is inevitable that some of us will. The Charity has some fantastic facilities and absolutely brilliant staff with a team of dedicated physiotherapists who will really put you through a regime that is not for the faint hearted - but just talk to anyone who has been treated by the Charity and they will only sing their praises; and the facilities can also be accessed by your family, so once again, many thanks for your fund raising and your support for our Charity.

Earlier this week, we saw the perfect illustration of how prevention can save lives following a serious fire at a property in Saltdean; firefighters from Roedean and Preston Circus were called out to a house fire in the early hours of Monday morning; on arrival crews found smoke issuing with a severe fire that had started in the kitchen and then spread, smoke logging the property. Fortunately the family who had been inside the house were standing outside having been woken by the smoke alarm.  Firefighters wearing BA and using two hosereels, entered the property to extinguish the fire, also rescuing the family's pets.  Crew Commander Andy  Cornford said that there was no doubt that having a working smoke alarm had saved lives due to the nature of the fire, and the way it had quickly spread through the property.  The community safety work we have been carrying out over the past decade has undoubtedly driven down the number of fires across East Sussex and the City and fitting smoke detectors has given householders an early warning of fire. We must continue to look at innovative ways and work with partners to continue this work and also look at opportunities to support other organisations to make out communities safer.

City crews responded to another domestic fire in Kemp Town during the early hours of Thursday with reports of children at a window with smoke issuing. Fortunately, by the time crews arrived everyone had got out of the building safely although three children were treated for the effects of smoke inhalation. The fire had started in a first floor bathroom and was believed to have been caused by a candle; the property did not have any smoke alarms and Crew Commander Will Marler commented how important it was for every home to be fitted with working smoke alarms and that it was extremely fortunate that everyone had managed to get out of the building without any serious injuries.  C.C. Marler also stressed the importance of having smoke alarms on every floor as they provide an early warning if a fire breaks out, and give you valuable time and increase your chance of getting out safely and went on to say that candles should always be placed in an appropriate holder and should be extinguished before you go to bed or if you leave the property.

Friday, 14 March 2014

CFO's blog 14 March 2014

Now I know some of those who read this Blog are not great football fans but there are some reasons why there should be a bit of a sporting theme this week.   What a great sporting weekend we had, starting off with Chelsea putting to bed any lingering hopes that Spurs had of finding themselves playing with the 'big boys' in Europe next year; back to the drawing board for the 'Lilywhites'!

Then we had one of the finest rugby matches at Twickenham with England demolishing the Welsh and storming to a great victory. My somewhat exuberant celebrations were in part due to the physical and psychological memories I have of school, where we had to play rugby and run cross-country in all weathers, and the unbridled joy of our teachers, particularly the Welsh contingent who were rugby mad, and who loved nothing better than showing us what fine rugby players they were, with their impression of 'valley rucking', like a scene out of the movie Kes. Then we had to endure the mullerings the England team received at the hands of the brilliant Welsh team of the 1970s.  They say 'revenge is a dish best served cold' so I'm enjoying the win over Owain Glyndwr descendants and looking forward to the Rugby World Cup next year. 

But putting that all in context, I have to say my admiration has to go to the GB Paralympic team; the Paralympians are just incredible and are role models for all of us, overcoming adversity and just getting on with their lives in a way that would put many of us to shame if we were honest with ourselves.  Too many of us whinge and moan about trivialities and I must accept that I sometimes get wound up about things that 'in the big scheme' are pretty insignificant.  So many congratulations to the GB Paralympian Team, you are all heroes. 

Condolences to the family of Bob Crow, the trade union leader who has headed the RMT for 12 years and who passed away this week at the relatively young age of 52. There has been much said about Bob Crow this week, with a recognition that though you may not have agreed with his views, he was a man who fought for his trade union beliefs and for the members he represented and was a man of conviction.

My week:

* attended the LGA Conference with the Chairman, Cllr Buchannan and Cllr Theobald; a very well attended event with challenging speakers including the Fire Minister, Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor, FBU General Secretary and the Chair of the Fire Services Management Committee. Discussion on whether firefighters could take on a greater emergency healthcare role with a number of FRSs already involved in emergency trauma response; also discussion on national resilience with credit given to FRSs for their response to recent flooding; concerns raised about the savings Services are having to make with almost all having already significantly reduced operational posts and introduced new crewing arrangements; very useful opportunity for our politicians to see what changes other Fire Authorities have already introduced

* we held a Members Seminar at HQ which was opened by Cllr. Howson; very well attended and great presentations including David Kemp who spoke about our community volunteers. The Fire Authority are delighted with the fantastic work our volunteers undertake and are keen to see this network expand. Councillors then broke into small groups to look at specific aspects of the IRMP and service transformation proposals that are out to consultation and discussed the savings that will have to be made and their plan to implement over the next 4/5 year period.

*. had a meeting with the Chairman to discuss recent comments in the media about the Fire Authority's proposals and our plans for public meetings. Also looked at the Newhaven proposals and the Chairman discussed the opportunities for closer working with Sussex Police, SECAmb, WSFRS and Surrey FRS; the Fire Authority are very keen to make better use of our fire stations and to encourage other services and local authorities to use them

*. met with Mark Rist and Hannah Scott-Youldon to discuss how we are working within a regional and national context on learning and development issues; there has been some great work by our team who are playing a key role influencing regional ways of working and really pleasing to see how training is progressing in ESFRS and the very high numbers of staff who are maintaining their qualifications and their operational competency

* telephone conference with HR Director in Bucks FRS who is part of the team developing the Fire Professional Framework; currently reviewing the skills and competencies of crew and watch commanders alongside the behaviours we would expect to see of these supervisory leaders; a questionnaire has been developed which will go out to crew and watch commanders across the country and this will link to a revision of national occupational standards

*  discussed with PPE manufacturers the move towards a layered approach  for protective clothing;  some good work going on which should provide a greater degree of flexibility, protection and comfort for firefighters depending on whether they are structural firefighting, working at an RTC or at other rescue scene

*. met up with an old colleague I used to work with who is now an FBU regional official and it was a good opportunity to talk about the union's approach to some of the challenges we are facing; always nice to meet up with friends from watches that I worked on many years ago!

*. a great weekend with a number of our community fire stations taking part in the firefighters charity car wash; I went along to my local team at Seaford where I got a very fine wash and brush up and the offer of a cup of tea! Eastbourne, Crowborough, Uckfield and Bexhill were all in action raising much need funds for the charity, well done to all the crews involved.  It was also great to see one of our longest serving Crew Commanders Mick Rigelsford back at Seaford; Mick has not been well for some time but in his own words, 'feeling much better' and great to see him back on the station. Mick joined the Service back in 1975 and is one of the few people old enough to remember when the North London duo of Arsenal and Spurs last won a trophy!

This weekend firefighters will once again be out cleaning cars to raise money for the Firefighters Charity; crews from Battle and Roedean will be getting out the high pressure hose and soap suds to give the best car wash this side of the South Downs, so please let neighbours and friends know that if they want their car to have a real treat whilst getting some home safety advice at the same time, then get down to your local community fire station this Saturday.

Friday, 7 March 2014

CFO's blog 7 March 2014

This week I was shocked to read reports of local health care professionals in parts of Pakistan being targeted by militants simply for providing polio vaccines to local children. A number of nurses in the vaccination teams were reported as being killed or injured in the Jamrud district. Polio is a terrible disease, almost eradicated from most parts of the world, but still claiming lives in some parts of Peshawar and causing awful suffering to those who contract the virus. I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to deny children a vaccine that would prevent polio; the courage of the local health care doctors and nurses in Pakistan is astonishing; they are being shot at and killed, simply for giving out a vaccine. But they continue their life saving work in the most intimidating conditions; they are as brave a group as we are ever likely to hear about. 

After returning from Uganda, and seeing the terrible suffering and distress that can be caused in local communities through a lack of blood and poor health care, it was humbling to see the fantastic work being carried out by Ugandan health care professionals, often with little resources and in the most difficult conditions.  Local people are the key to improving the quality of life for their communities. I understand that my trip has been a bit of a talking point – and would like to make one thing very clear. This was in my own time and at no costs to local taxpayers. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong. Many people in positions such as my own are very committed to causes outside their work and want to raise awareness of the issues others less fortunate than us face. I feel very strongly about the need to try and help increase blood donations, reduce malaria, and to work with clinicians and doctors who are trying to improve healthcare for some of the poorest people in the world. Furthermore, I hope to return to Uganda later this year to continue to give something back – and that the efforts of those I met begin to reap rewards.

International Women's Day is celebrated on 8th March every year and I was really pleased to see ESFRS taking part in a live stream of a conference in support of the event, earlier this week. There were some very inspirational women talking about their experiences, supporting and encouraging women to ensure their voice is heard and talking about goal setting, achievement focus and not limiting your horizons.  The event was inclusive, and open to men with an exploration of emotional intelligence, which is key in the development of our future leaders. 

*. briefing on our response to support the recent flooding across Surrey and the Thames Valley and we will be looking at any lessons learned; the nationally co-ordinated response by Fire & Rescue Services has nearly concluded although there will be many properties that will remain uninhabitable for some considerable time

*. had a number of meetings at HQ on finance and procurement, proposals for Heads of Function to become more involved and engaged in influencing and leading and an update on learning and development and how we are working with the Fire Professional Framework and using national occupational standards

* have now planned meetings with local MPs to look at our plans for implementing savings over the next 4 years and to talk through the Fire Authority's proposals for the future structure of ESFRS

*. early start on Monday to get across to see my 'new' watch at Station 9; first day on duty with Blue Watch so wanted to show I was keen. I saw the off-going watch, then used the gym before meeting the Watch Commander and the rest of my crew, with my mentor Ff Pierce keeping an eye on me!! After checking the appliance, it was station routines checking the RTC equipment, PPV fan and hose inflation kit, then out to a BA exercise at a disused warehouse; crews from Bohemia Rd joined us and I was detailed as No1 of the first BA crew (strange that) but I had my buddy with me and we went in to a heavily smoke logged building. A great exercise, well organised and lots of learning for me; good to see the skills and professionalism of the rest of the crews. In the afternoon, we carried out a familiarisation visit to Smugglers Caves and then a home safety visit; a very worthwhile day and thanks to Watch Commander Dave Wilby and the crew for making the day very worthwhile and enjoyable

*. meeting with colleagues from across the country to discuss some conditions of service issues including consultation on future pension contributions, draft compensation regulations which are linked to redundancy payments, reductions in numbers of senior officers and consultations with the NJC

*. key discussion with colleagues from the College, Institution of Fire Engineers, JESIP, LGA, CFOA and Skills for Justice to consider creating a Fire Portal so that staff from across Fire & Rescue Services and partner organisations can have one web based access point for all of our organisations.  At present, it is difficult and complicated to find the information you need to do your job or to link up the different Fire Sector organisations; there is a willingness to create one point so that everyone can have a single  main access icon on their computer, tablet or phone to access information. We just need to agree a way in which we can fund this!!!

*. Officers Training day where we were refreshed on operational skills including RTCs, BA, first aid and incident command as well as core skills including pump operating, ladders and knots and lines including the Alpine Butterfly knot.  Early start, so we 'fuelled up' on bacon sandwiches at a transport cafe in Heathfield.

*. monthly CMT meeting at HQ where we discussed the Sussex Control Centre and the target dates to which we are working. It is planned to be operating from the new SCC this summer and a number of our current staff from Chichester and Eastbourne will be leaving the Service over the next few months. Looked at the plans for the new Community Fire Station in Newhaven, monitoring the revenue and capital spend and we will be take proposals to the Fire Authority to carry forward any underspends into 2014/15

*. had planned an exit interview with one of our staff from Chichester who will be leaving the Service after 10 years; we will be reducing the number of staff at the new SCC and a number of existing staff will be moving on. Our M&CC staff in both Chichester and Eastbourne have done a fantastic job in preparing for the new SCC and I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that are leaving for all their work and contribution to public safety across Sussex, and offer them our best wishes for their future

*. went to Martin Lusk's retirement function where many of Martin’s friends and colleagues turned up to celebrate his 30 year career with ESFRS; it was also good to catch up with retired friends who all look remarkably well; I made a tactical withdrawal before the karaoke got started, but I am sure everyone remained in good voice apart from the group of Arsenal fans who sat in the corner with their half of shandy, staring at another year of an empty trophy cabinet!

What a great weekend to look forward to; the temperatures are expected to hit 18C in the South, a welcome relief after the weeks of rain, although we should not forget that many people are still suffering with flooded homes and the relief operation will go on for many months. 
There are two cracking sporting events, with the Super Blues about to finally bury Spurs hopes of a Champions league place next season and a thundering match at Twickenham with England taking on the Welsh. A win double I think with Chelsea set for 3-1 and England to win by 8 points!

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