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!