Culture in A Fire & Rescue Service

I decided that I wanted to write a blog about the cultural review which was published by Essex County Fire & Rescue Service this week.

The more that I thought about it the less certain I was about what I should say. I don’t want to highlight any particular statements or issues, nor do I want to ignore any. I’m equally not going to reproduce it all.

I think that anyone who works within any Fire & Rescue Service should read it.

I’m not expecting lots of comments on this one, but I’d love to hear your thoughts should you wish to communicate them.

Here is the LINK

Looking forward to the news

Reading the Sunday newspapers this week had something of a familiar feel to it. Familiar as in a ‘once a year’ feel I hasten to add. As the school summer holidays draw to a close the newspapers are full of articles looking forward to the new parliamentary session, the new TV season and the sporting events that will be crammed into the Autumn. I’m pretty sure that these articles were written weeks ago, allowing the junior journalists to write the copy through the ‘silly season’, and for the serious, major league hacks to squeeze an extra week away from the office.It got me thinking about what we have to look forward to in West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service as 2015 enters the home straight and the holidays become a distant memory, though maybe ‘look forward to’ isn’t necessarily the most appropriate phrase in some of these cases!

Most pressing, given the deadline of the end of this week (4 September) is the Yorkshire devolution deal. Even at this late stage the ‘footprint’ around which the deal will be based is yet to be agreed, or made public at least. There was an interesting article in the YORKSHIRE EVENING POST recently which outlines the current position. According to the YEP the Greater Yorkshire deal is a non-starter and most probably we are looking at something based around the current West Yorkshire, with the possibility of a few council additions. How will the Chancellor receive this? Is it ‘under ambitious’? Will there be a mayor? What will be the implications for WYFRS? I guess that we will have to wait and see.

Sometime in the autumn we also expect to hear about the Government proposals for changing the role of the locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners. It is less clear when we will hear their plans, though news will probably be linked to publication of the new Policing and Criminal Justice Bill, and it is less than clear what the announcement will be. The Minister with responsibility for Fire has been quoted as saying in a reply to a letter from Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne, that Government have ruled out “impos[ing] a PCC take-over of fire and rescue services”. This leaves open a number of other possibilities, as I’ve written out before it is probably most significant that the Minister rules out ‘imposing’ any changes, this leaves scope for a range of other ‘voluntary’ arrangements in local areas. Any decisions in this area will inevitably be linked to the devolution and mayoral outcomes.

Jumping forward to 25 November, we will hear the outcomes of the current, and ongoing, Comprehensive Spending Review 2015. This may be where the decisions on the devolution bids across the UK are confirmed, and it will also signal any substantial changes to the funding arrangements for Fire & Rescue Services. Hopefully we will see some longer term funding arrangements that allow us to effectively plan budgets up to the next General Election.

Around the same period of the year we will also be concluding work on some of the Efficiency Options and moving toward decisions about which ones will be taken forward. Between now and then there continues to be opportunity for engagement, and we remain committed to keeping staff updated as we progress.

Less time specific, but we will also continue to feel the changes in focus as we add more overtly health related projects to our service delivery. I’ve blogged about some of the opportunities that exist in previous blogs, and hopefully we can now start to make some progress on these initiatives. There is work to be done in developing new ways of working where these become appropriate and necessary, but I sense that many staff are excited by new opportunities and see the value in increasing our relevance and role in wider society. Most particularly we seek to progress work linked to targeting the elderly and those with long term conditions, and to help prevent them coming to harm in their homes – be that from fire or other hazards. Hopefully we will best utilise partnerships to deliver these initiatives and do something where by working together in a very focussed way we deliver a real and sustained change for the better.

My penultimate issue is one over which we have little, or no, control. It is with this issue in mind that I qualified my earlier statement about what we have to ‘look forward’ to. The news is full of reports about terrorism, and terrorist related events. The threat is clear, and ever present. It is, in the main, linked to the issues around Syria and the so called Islamic State, or Daish/ISIS/ISIL etc. Internationally we have recently seen terrorist events in Tunisia and in France. We have seen the first major (largely foiled) attack on a moving train, and the recent DISCOVERY of a huge weapons import in Kent reminds us of the vulnerability to attack which we are currently exposed to. There remains no time for complacency as we continue to face this threat and make efforts to protect ourselves from it, and in the case of the FRS prepare to respond to it.

Finally, the changes in Management Board will begin to take effect as we are joined by our new Chief Employment Services Officer, and the ongoing handover of references takes place as we prepare for January 2016 and a new structure with less uniformed Principal Officers.

There will, I am absolutely sure, be other things that come up that I haven’t written about. At least we can prepare for those that we know about, allowing us to more effectively respond to those which we don’t know about.

New station, new team, new opportunities and ongoing challenges

You may have seen that I posted a ‘sneak-peek’ photo from our new Dewsbury Fire Station this week, I accompanied it with the caption #InvestingInSafety. This caused a flutter of activity on Twitter, questioning the wisdom, timing and merits of ‘two into one’ station builds, and also suggesting that our Chief Fire Officer should be asking for more money to run the service.

For the record, I welcome people commenting upon and questioning the tweets that I post. Its what social media is about, and as long as the volume is manageable I will always try and reply. On this occasion though, it did cause me to reflect on exactly how clear the message about the future of the service is. I honestly think that most people ‘get it’, but I have a long held belief that the type of change that we are encountering is such that people NEED to understand the context against which it is delivered – and maybe some people still haven’t grasped it?

I’m not so naive as to not understand that political views, social media comments and ideology are something very different from people’s understanding of a situation, I get that. But you do hear the same old rhetoric on occasion, and for me I’m afraid it’s time has been and gone.

Let us be absolutely clear on a few issues:

  • There is, and will continue to be, significantly less money with which to provide a fire and rescue service.
  • West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, our Chief, and our Chair will continue to highlight the challenge that the current budget presents to us. We do this as a single service, and with other metropolitan fire services. We highlight our issues to anyone who will listen to us, but importantly we highlight it to both CLG and Treasury Ministers.
  • The national, and local trend with regard to fire fatalities is down*, and has been for a while – and yes, I know that West Yorkshire has experienced a significant number of fire fatalities in recent months, more of that later.
  • The total number of fires in England in 2014-15 was the second lowest ever*, this is also consistent with an ongoing downward trend
  • The number of false alarm calls in England in 2014-15 was down 4% on the previous year*
  • The number of non-fire emergency calls in England in 2014-15 was down 5% on the previous year (this figure comprises of 25% RTCs, 13% medical incidents, and 10% floods)*
  • These are trends that we broadly reflect here in West Yorkshire.

*= DCLG Fire Statistics Monitor : England April 2014 to March 2015 (Published this week, and worth a read)


This is not the background against which services will do anything other than look to work more efficiently, with less people (people cost lots of money) and to rationalise wherever they can. This is not an issue that just affects the FRS, it affects all of the public sector. Similarly it is not the background against which services should sit, paralysed with indecision, and ‘salami slice’ every year in order to provide a service which can be afforded with that years budget, and worry about next year when it comes. It is a scenario that demands sustainable and long term change, decisions and vision. That is the approach taken by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, it has been designed by officers and well supported by elected members as part of the democratic process that steers our service. I do believe that we are seeing an unprecedented ‘once in a career’ level of change.

Without exception, all of our new station builds have provided a better working environment for our staff. They are located in places where we know that they can provide good fire cover to vulnerable people. They are efficient to run and the investment decisions will save money in the long term. They have replaced old and tired facilities that cost a lot of money to run and maintain. They are where we want them to be located in 2015, not where they were needed in the 1960s. They are about the future of this service and not about its past.

They provide us with the opportunity to save money on staffing costs by either requiring less staff, or by being crewed in different ways. There are more of them yet to be built and to ‘go live’.

Replacing old stations with new, on a widespread one for one basis, did not make sense at the early stages of our change programme. This is the time for some fundamental change to our footprint.
In the future we may well replace old stations with new, as we have done in the case of Rothwell. This will be about providing fresh, fit for purpose facilities at locations that are important to us, but doing so in a way that allows us to run and maintain efficient and modern buildings. Our recently completed Asset Review will support these decisions.

The number of calls being responded to by individual stations is getting lower all of the time, any of our staff can tell you that. Some stations that were once busy two pump stations can now barely sustain the level of activity that supports them remaining wholetime crewed.

Attendance times are important, and stations are located so as to provide the fastest response times into our highest risk areas. We can improve attendance times to every incident by looking at call handling in fire control and the length of time that it takes to get a fire engine mobile to, and in attendance at, an incident. All of this matters to us, and should be a source of professional pride in doing these things as quickly as we can. Automatic Vehicle Location (AVLS) will ensure that we always send the fastest fire engine to an incident.

On occasions our fire engines will be some distance from a developing incident because they are doing some other task, or attending another incident, therefore they may take longer than we would wish to get there, this has always been the case, it is nothing new, but we have a better chance of getting it right now with AVLS than we ever have done before.

There are less fire engines, and the number will decline further still. This is commensurate with the call volume, and the activity profile that is predictable and steady. Big fires will occur, and at times the service will be more busy than at other times. Fires will still happen at night, no one ever said that they won’t, but there are less of them. No service which provides value for money should grow as demand shrinks.

We are developing new ways of working, using new technology, and seeking to provide resilience to our response service to accommodate peaks in demand – and we will continue to do so.

We recognise that our staff are getting less experience at incidents and we recognise that we will have to replace this with training and simulation. This will require us to be innovative and to invest money in new facilities.

Unfortunately people will continue to die in fires in the home for as far into the future as I can see. Most of these deaths will be  preventable and the fire and rescue service has a large part to play in making people safer in their homes, but fire deaths are not our ‘fault’. Of course we hope that no one loses their life in a fire ever again, but it will happen. We will stop people dying only if we, and others, can educate them about how fires start and encourage them to either help themselves or allow others to help them – not all people will respond to our efforts. We will continue to work hard to prevent fires and mitigate their impact. We will particularly support vulnerable people who are less able to help themselves, part of this support may involve better use of technology and innovation.

Our successes in prevention are there for all to see – ask the NHS and the Police if you don’t believe me. As the Chief spoke about in his recent letter to all staff, just because we have had a number of tragic fatal fires in the last few months, this does not mean that it has all gone wrong, far from it. We are not complacent, no one should be as long as fires continue to cause death, injury and loss. Our task is a difficult one, and the difficulty will only increase as we seek to reach the most vulnerable and inaccessible. It is a task influenced by issues that are largely out of our direct control such as the effects of old age, mental health and the prevalence of smoking in our society. We will always try and have as much of an effect on these issues, and others, as we can. This will require us to change the way that we work and the people and organisations that we work with. I don’t think we have even begun to experience the true scale of this change.

This is not a ‘race to the bottom’. It is a process of adjusting our service to match a changing demand in a context of austerity. It will be a smaller service that will cost less to run, because it has to be. Decisions will be made on evidence and a degree of professional judgement. The public will be asked what they think both through consultation and ultimately by the democratic process that provides us with a Fire Authority.

It is an often used cliche to say that ‘our staff are our greatest asset’ – THEY ARE! We will work with our staff, on every station and in every department, to find our way through these challenges. It will be difficult but I am convinced that it is achievable if we can all work together. Lines of communication are arguably more open than they have ever been in the past. There are many routes which staff can use to share thoughts and ideas, please use them.

I’m really proud of our new facilities at Dewsbury. I think that our staff will be too. I also think that whilst we are all feeling some of the pains of change we should be tremendously proud of the service that we provide to the people of West Yorkshire. Read some of the social media comments that we get back following incidents like that at the Freeston Academy this week if you need reminding.

I wish everyone who serves at the new station every success. Its a wonderful building and I’m sure that you will become a fantastic team who use it to help to make the local communities safer.

I’m conscious that some may see this blog as me ‘letting off steam’, or having a rant. It very genuinely isn’t. Every now and then I’ve wondered whether or not it needed writing. I think that it does, so here it is. It really is time to move on!

National Operational Guidance & Hazmats

There were a couple of incidents which caught my eye during the last week, one in the UK and the other abroad. Both incidents involved hazmats and both will have presented significant challenges to the first responders as they arrived and attempted to apply some control to a developing incident.

In the UK we saw an LPG transport tanker involved in fire on the M56 motorway, and in China we saw the devastating aftermath of one of the worlds most serious industrial incidents in recent years. As I write this piece the death toll in China is in excess of 100, with this number comprising mostly firefighters it would seem. A salutary reminder of the hazards faced when attending such incidents.

Its only right to recognise and pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those firefighters in China who didn’t get to go home that night. The VIDEO FOOTAGE(Opens in a new window) that was captured shows a conflagration and explosion of extraordinary scale. It is far too early to speculate about how the incident developed with such catastrophic consequences but hopefully we will find out in due course if the Chinese authorities are as open as we would want them to be. Every incident brings learning that can help prevent reoccurrence, and we can learn something from international incidents as much as home based ones.

The incident on the M56 in Cheshire was certainly spectacular and you may have seen some of the VIDEO(Opens in a new window) that emerged via various media outlets. The incident was one of those ‘once in a career’ events that relies on the commander of the crews who arrive first to rapidly assess the situation and develop a plan that requires a good technical appreciation of what is going on.

Turning to my thinking behind this blog posting, which is not to undertake an armchair critique of these two incidents, I think that both serve as a timely reminder of the dangers posed by hazardous materials and the need for FRS response to be both safe and effective in what can be a hugely technical area of emergency response. Doing so relies on the accessibility of reliable and accurate information in a form which can be readily understood. I’m currently acting as the Project Executive for the new National Operational Guidance programme refresh of the Hazardous Materials guidance. Some of you may be aware that I also lead on Hazmats for CFOA and it seems to be an area of work that requires ever more attention.

Writing the guidance is a huge project, and is being done by a talented team from across the UK FRS and we have also secured support from other individuals outside of the FRS who can bring expertise, knowledge and challenge to our project to help us ensure that it is as relevant and accurate as possible. The new guidance will be written in the format that many of you will now becoming accustomed to. If you’ve not seen it have a look at the WEBSITE(Opens in a new window) as this is now the ‘go to’ place for FRS guidance.

All of the new guidance will be web based, and is initially pitched at providing policy writers with the framework against which to produce local policy and procedures. In time the NOG programme aims to produce training and knowledge materials to support FRS, and work is currently underway through the NOG Implementation Forum to consider how best to produce tactical guidance at a national level.

As all services contribute, along with central government, to the NOG Programme its important for us to ensure that we get good value for the money that we contribute. In the fullness of time the vision is that through regional and national collaboration we are able to efficiently produce operational guidance that facilitates interoperability through consistency of content and presentation. In doing so we will move away from policy teams in each and every FRS, this will save us money and lead to us being able to better work together. It all makes good sense, and you can argue that its been a long time coming.

The programme has very recently produced the new INCIDENT COMMAND guidance and the accompanying FOUNDATION DOCUMENT, a project which our own Chief, Simon Pilling, has acted as Project Executive for. We will be adopting this new guidance in due course.

I’d encourage anyone who has not yet done so to take a look at the NOG website, there is a lot of information on there about the programme and a developing library of reference material too.

Boxing – what has it got to do with us?

I’m back and refreshed after a couple of weeks off blogging, and a week off work. Summer always used to be a time when things went quieter and the pace of work slowed down. Except for perhaps meetings being a bit thinner on the ground there is little sign of that, and operationally WYFRS continues to be busy as does the research and discussions behind our efficiencies options programme. We are also starting to get a certain feel for the complete uncertainty of the political world that exists around the local devolution issue which I have blogged about in the past, and will surely blog about again. The times they are a changing – that’s for sure!

It was also an opportunity to reflect on some of the feedback received about my blog, and I’ll make a few changes to reflect that – mainly in the style perhaps being a little more conversational on occasions. Thank you to everyone who has fed back so positively about the blog – I am listening.

It was my privilege on Friday to attend Stanningley Fire Station to witness, and be part of,  the celebration event that concluded the week long ‘Get Started With Boxing’ week which was delivered in partnership with the Princes Trust. 14 young people from a variety of backgrounds had the opportunity to work with some of our staff to learn about (amongst other things) self discipline, teamwork, healthy and nutritional eating, first aid, personal responsibility and fitness – all with the background of  boxing skills.

The celebration event was an opportunity for the young people involved to showcase to their parents, friends and carers, staff from the Princes Trust, Cllr Dunbar from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, fire officers and others from the community safety network in West Yorkshire exactly what they had achieved. I can well understand that this was daunting for many of them, particularly as the event was as much about talking to a large group as it was about demonstrating their boxing and fitness skills. They delivered spectacularly in just the same way as they delivered throughout the week long course. It is of massive significance that of the 14 young people that started on Monday morning, every single one of them was there at the end on Friday afternoon with a beaming smile on their face, having attended every session, on every day. Many of them face, on a day to day basis, a whole range of issues which make that achievement quite extraordinary in itself. Listening to them speak during the event was genuinely inspirational, and I know it bought a tear to the eye of a couple of rough and tough people in the room. I can’t quote their words exactly as I was so focussed and enthralled about what they had to say and how they went about saying it that I didn’t write it down. However, one of the guys on the course committed to stopping smoking there and then now that he better understands the effect that it has on his health and the danger it presents in terms of fire. Others spoke about (and recognised) the importance of the transferable skills that they had picked up during the week, and one parent remarked that they hadn’t seen their child in such a positive light in 25 years! Of course there is more, plenty more, and I hope that each and everyone of them takes something positive from the week that helps them to achieve more and be healthier and safer in their future life.

For us as a service, it was a risk. Without dwelling on the issue, some of the young people involved have less than straightforward, and often very challenging backgrounds. Encouraging boxing on a fire station goes against the grain, and working with partners to deliver the course – the first time that such a course has been delivered like this – brings with it a risk to our reputation in terms of the range of activities that we are prepared to get involved with. Many I know, will ask what value such a course adds when we are scrutinising every pound that we spend in these increasingly austere times – hence the title of this blog.

For me it was a risk worth taking, and one that will help to shape our future service delivery. The fact that the course was so successful is, of course, a huge benefit. In some way it’s a demonstration of how we need to, and can, vary and adapt what we do to increase the relevance of the fire and rescue service in the community. As I have said many times if we rely on the decreasing number of emergency incidents to keep us relevant to the community then we are on a slippery slope – in my opinion. Taking risks, and doing things differently, comes hand in hand with the change that we are going through.

The 90 minutes at Stanningley, and the opportunity to speak with some of the young people, reinforced just how much difference we can make to young peoples lives. Those young people are faced with choices on a daily basis, choices that will shape them as members of the community, and choices that will affect the community which we serve. If we can influence them to make positive, and safe, choices and to respect the role of the Fire & Rescue Service then surely that has to be a good thing. Healthy lifestyles help to make safe communities.

There are naysayers within our service, I’m more than aware of that. It is important that we scrutinise our spend and look to protect the front line emergency response service. But we are about more than that, and we will continue to be. The ‘value added’ activities are often achieved by the utilisation of partnership funding and other sources of income. They become ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’. Of course we have done a range of youth activities for many years now, and have been very successful at it. We will continue to deliver those activities but will also look to expand the range too.

I’m immensely grateful to everyone involved in setting up and delivering the course. I acknowledge their vision and commitment.  I heard some of the comments that the young people made to them on Friday and I hope that they are rightly proud of the difference that they have made.

The line on the back of the team t-shirts was “I’m gonna show you how great I am” – without doubt everyone involved, either as a member of staff or as a participant, did that last week.

Our NHS, our FRS, our future?

The NHS seems to have been everywhere I looked this week. During the course of any regular week a thousand and one things flash across the near horizon, never to be seen again. Sometimes though an issue will go into an orbit around you which means that it is seemingly everywhere you look. This week the NHS occupied that space. Mindful of the flypast of Pluto this week by an unmanned NASA craft, my blog reflects some of the hi-def insight into the NHS that is coming our way through these near encounters.

Firstly, and by way of comment from a follower of social media trends, it was really interesting to see the hashtag campaign #ImInWorkJeremy. I don’t know who started it, nor how it came to spread so quickly, but the ‘campaign’ to remind the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that thousands of NHS workers were at work 24/7 over the weekend was inspired. His newly announced policy to develop (what he refers to) as the 24/7 NHS has certainly grabbed column inches this week. I’m guessing that he would argue that he has been misinterpreted, mischievously or otherwise, but what a fantastic demonstration of how the news agenda can be developed by individuals at the sharp end of service delivery whose role is far remote from daily media contact.

For those not from around the West Yorkshire area, the photo at the top of this blog is of Quarry House in Leeds. Its a government building with Kremlin-esque architecture, much of which is occupied by the National Health Service administrative machinery. I’ve driven past it many times, and for the first time this week got to go inside to attend a meeting. I’ll admit to my preconceptions in as much I imagined a ‘grey’ building in terms of both decor, culture and mood. In my professional contact with the NHS it  always seems to be so big, so disjointed, so unwieldy and everything else that I would attribute to an organisation that ‘lived in a house like this’.

When I got inside though I was inspired, more by what I heard, and who I met, rather than what I saw – it was magnolia decor not grey! The synergies between the FRS and the NHS have been discussed for quite some time now, occasionally in this blog, and whilst I’ve always recognised the synergies and seen the opportunities to work together for safer and healthier communities it has always seemed that a really joined up piece of proper, significant work was going to be beyond our grasp due, in the main, to lack of agility within the Health Service to respond locally and to help the FRS develop a ‘whats in it for us?’ position. But maybe that has changed.

The Chief Exec of the NHS, Simon Stevens, recently challenged the Chief Fire Officers Association to think about how they could help support the NHS to reduce excess winter deaths. It is estimated that upwards of 30,000 more people than would normally be expected die as a result of winter weather, with the biggest cohort being women living alone over 75 and the majority of excess deaths in owner occupied houses.

Whilst  this challenge was indirectly behind my meeting this week, I was actually meeting with someone in the Long Term Conditions (LTC) Unit of the NHS. LTC affect 15 million members of our population, and this number is rising. The treatment and care for those with LTC consumes 70% of the health and social care budget. 30% of those affected have more than one LTC, this figure increases with age and deprivation.

We are looking to work more closely with the NHS locally in West Yorkshire to make a difference THIS WINTER. We’ve yet to figure out exactly how we will do this, but I’m convinced that we can help in some way. Of course, the FRS is not going to cure these LTCs, in fact in many cases neither is the NHS, but by helping people to better manage LTCs we can reduce demand on the NHS, improve lives, and have a direct, positive impact on those very individuals who make up one of our most significant risk groups in respect of fire.

Longer term, perhaps we are seeing one of the key roles for the FRS of the future being developed. I’ve spoken on recent station visits about needing to ensure that the FRS remains relevant to the community given the falling numbers of fires and incidents, and the related deaths and injuries. We know that most members of our community will never engage with us in our traditional emergency response role. We know that our budget requires us to challenge what we do and how we do it. We simply don’t have the incident demand to operate as we have done in the past. We will, of course, work hard to make sure that we have a resilient, safe and effective emergency response when it is needed. But, and we all know the well rehearsed argument, we need to look at the structure and content of that time when we are not at incidents. That is one of our key challenges, and working with the NHS whether in preventative mode or response mode is an opportunity that we can seize. We are of course the junior partner in terms of size/budget/workforce etc, but we have an enormous amount to bring to the table in terms of our ‘brand’, our can do approach, our epic successes in prevention work, and our need to shape the FRS of the future. Importantly, I get the sense that although the ‘junior partner’, the NHS now recognise what we can do and how we can help them.

The other close flyby with the NHS came by way of the publication of THIS DOCUMENT(Opens in a new window) from the New Local Government Network. New Local Government Network (NLGN) is an independent think tank that seeks to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities. On this occasion their report, supported by CFOA, takes a look at some of the opportunities to widen the preventative agenda, to collaborate with other emergency services, and to achieve greater efficiencies through both structure and scale of FRSs in the future. In particular the report explores the relationship between the FRS and the NHS. Its only 40 pages long, and well worth a read by anyone in the shared space that the FRS, emergency services and the NHS occupy.

The point of this blog? Its to share a view of the possibilities for the future. Going back to my opening point, sometimes you get the sense of gathering momentum behind something significant, a sense that things are lining up. This is one of those times. How we react to this opportunity could well be very significant as we move forward.

This will be my last blog for a few weeks. I’m having some leave, and I’ve no intention of blogging whilst I’m away. Back soon!

Volunteers, and a ‘Thank You’!

The sun shone, the crowds came in their masses, ice cream and hot dogs were consumed in industrial quantities and this years 999 Emergency Services show was a massive success, with a lot of money raised for some very worthwhile causes.
The sun shone, the crowds came in their masses, ice cream and hot dogs were consumed in industrial quantities and this years 999 Emergency Services show was a massive success, with a lot of money raised for some very worthwhile causes.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who worked so hard to make the event the success that it undoubtedly was. Making it happen on the day was just the culmination of an effort that probably began as soon as last years event was over, and was only interrupted by the work needed to deliver a Bonfire Night equivalent occasion, another one of which will take place this year (ADVERT!!)
Whether Fire Service or other agency, volunteering or on duty, or even those that had worked in the background prior to the day itself, the support of a huge number of individuals was very much appreciated and made sure that THOUSANDS of members of our community got to meet their heroes, have some fun, and leave a good few £ lighter – all in the name of charity of course!
Events like this only happen because people are willing to give freely of their time for a cause that they believe in. Volunteering is developing a profile like never before, and the type of opportunities that people are able to volunteer for is ever widening. I had a couple of people asking me as a I walked around at the Emergency Services Show how they could get more involved in what we do, and I’m sure that there are more people out there.
Volunteering has a number of different facets. There is what we would look at as the more ‘traditional’ type of volunteering to support a good cause, this being what we saw at the show. Increasingly though some people are actually seeking to volunteer and do what can often be considered as traditional paid roles to get real life work experience.
I’m not going to make political comment about the effect of austerity on an organisation’s capacity to deliver services, nor David Cameron’s concept of a ‘big society’ where the roots of much of today’s new style of volunteering come from. I’d simply make the point that, for whatever reason, people are volunteering, they are enjoying it and benefitting from it, communities and supported organisations are better for it, and I’d like to have a closer look at it in West Yorkshire FRS. There are things that we used to do in a particular way that we can no longer deliver as we manage our budget, there are even things that we can’t do at all, or certainly not on the scale that we would like to. If there are people in our community who want to pitch in and get involved, then we should find a way to facilitate this.
One of THE volunteering successes of the last few years was the Tour de France. Without volunteers such as the Tour Makers, the event wouldn’t have been the massive success that it was. Our colleagues in West Yorkshire Police have a huge number of Special Constables, and have done for a while. Other FRS have made use of volunteers in numerous roles. Success, I think, is mixed but it’s an opportunity, and there are lots of lessons to learn from others.
I’ll confess to being cynical in the early days of this new ‘explosion’ in volunteering. I didn’t readily see why people would volunteer on the scale that they subsequently have. That said, I’ve volunteered for a long time as a school governor and Teach First coach. I undertook those roles because I wanted to learn more about schools and teaching as my children got to school age. I also wanted to give back to the community some of the skills and expertise that I had developed as a member of the public services. Experience tells me that it’s easy to under-estimate how well received you might be as a volunteer. My cynicism was therefore pretty unfounded, and having thought it through in recent months, I was wrong.

If you think about what we can offer the list is significant:

  • Valuable work experience for someone looking to get into work or develop their existing career
  • An opportunity to work with skilled professionals delivering a vital community service, and to see how they do it
  • For those, such as the retired, with time on their hands – an opportunity to remain busy and engaged in a very relevant and worthwhile way
  • An association with our ‘brand’
  • The opportunity to engage with the public from a diverse range of communities, and to learn about them and contribute to them
  • For us as a service we have an opportunity to work with our community in a way that we never have done before. 

 It doesn’t come completely free to us of course, it’s only reasonable to provide a uniform and expenses. It also takes effort to ensure that the right people become volunteers and a selection process is important, it’s not an open door to anyone who wants to come in. After all, in the eyes of the community a volunteer is rightly seen as member of our service just like everyone that we pay to come to work – to the community there is no difference. We will also need to manage volunteers in some way and have a good think about the range of roles that we may be able to offer, and how we go about delivering that. Striking the balance between the world of paid work, and the ethos of volunteering is a difficult one. The relationship is an entirely different one to that which we are used to managing.
I take my hat off to volunteers, I marvel at the level of dedication and the commitment offered. I’d like to find a way to tap this potential on the basis that there is something in it for everyone, and I’d like West Yorkshire FRS and the community that we serve to benefit. We haven’t really forayed into the world of volunteering as many others have, and now is as good a time as ever.
In closing I ask a favour of anyone who has read this far. You may be aware that the way in which this blog gets to be on your screen has changed this week. My access to the WordPress application has changed and you can now see the blog on the front page of the West Yorkshire FRS website as soon as I publish it – clever stuff which I don’t pretend to understand. If you could post a comment of some sort, however brief, it will allow us to check all of the ‘behind the scenes’ wiring to make sure that it works. If you post something and I don’t reply within 24 hours, it’s probably gone wrong so give me a ring or drop me an e-mail. Thank you!
Thanks to Matt Goodall for the ‘looking down’ photo from the CARP cage.

Leadership and Technology

There’s loads to read out there on leadership, and I can take or leave a lot of it. Occasionally though you come across something that resonates and feels relevant and up to date. This week I came across a newly published review of leadership conducted by the College of Policing. The REVIEW has been developed to take a look at the many facets of leadership as they sit within a context of institutional change on a scale arguably not seen before, something that I would suggest is also common to the Fire & Rescue Service. If you take the opportunity to read the report, and some of the appendices that go with it, it’s fairly easy to take out the policing specific elements and what you are left with is a really good assessment of the challenges and context that will shape the immediate future of the public service organisations.

Its not my intention to comment on every aspect of the review, hopefully you can take a little time to read some of it for yourself, but there are a couple of things that jump out of it that should strike a chord with any leader, particularly those of us in the public services.

The first of these are the 5 major trends which affect the context in which leaders will lead, namely:

  • economic challenges
  • shifting demographics
  • rising citizen expectations
  • rapid technological advances
  • the arrival of the internet as a social space

Section 3 of the report (its only 3 pages) talks about these trends, and I think that all of them can underpin some of our thinking in West Yorkshire FRS about how we operate in the future. Without wishing to state the obvious its probably the economic challenge that will be the catalyst for changing the way that leaders will operate. I don’t wish to suggest that we are going to lead differently because its cheaper, but the leverage that austerity brings will help progress some of the change that I want to see. For a start leadership does not translate directly into management, nor does it directly come with either rank or salary. Leaders are everywhere in our organisation, and by allowing people to have limits in which to work but to allow them to make choices in how they achieve specific tasks I both think and hope that we can raise our capacity to deliver real and tangible effects at the very sharp end of the service. Less managers within a shrinking workforce is inevitable, but the ratio of managers is also likely to change so that teams can, and are expected to, take responsibility for their actions that support the service strategy.

I do think that this is a bigger challenge for the FRS than it may be for the Police as we do have a longstanding culture with its roots in our hierarchical command and control environment that creates a strong  dependency on being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Its a bit cliched but as long as you select and provide your own underwear the FRS will provide most other things for you that you need in order to carry out your work. We have a strong rationale for working in teams, and I completely accept the importance of that, but this, coupled with our strong command focus, means that the dependency on directive management is difficult to break. Our future service must have more self starters, more innovators and more individual and team responsibility, and we as senior leaders must create the situation for this to both develop and prosper. Police Officers already operate more independently, and with more responsibility and accountability and it is a good model to look at.

Secondly, I was struck by paragraph 3.7. This paragraph is more relevant to the Police right now than it is to our own service as we currently have a recruitment freeze and, to some extent, our workforce is relatively static. There is, of course, some recruitment going on in the support departments largely on a one in one out basis, but the door from the operational side of the service is one way only – and that is out. When it becomes a door into the organisation, and the first new recruits enter our service they are going to have very different expectations which are as much of an issue for those of us already serving as it will be for them. Its not enough to expect them to change to fit the way that we work, and it would be wrong to do so. What the College of Policing report refers to as ‘millennials’ will have different approaches to use of technology, to social media, in attitudes toward authority and to life experiences in general. We can spend the next few years as we change planning to welcome them into our service and preparing ourselves to benefit from their diverse outlooks and ideas.

In support of this forthcoming, and ongoing, change I, and others, this week sat through presentations from the 5 companies shortlisted to support our review of information and technology over the next few months. As ever some were better than others, but I am genuinely excited about the project that we are just about  to embark upon. As one of the key enablers of the change that lies ahead I hope that we can now make massive strides, supported by significant investment, in the way that we use, process and capture information. Where appropriate we will also look at the opportunities to procure new hardware or software, or to better use what we already have. We know that we can do this better, and the appointed consultants will be engaging with as many of the West Yorkshire team as possible to listen to your thoughts and ideas about what we can do better and the systems that need to be improved. Please take every opportunity to make your voice heard when the opportunity is presented.

Finally, and returning to where I started, I had the opportunity to sit in on the end of a Police teleconference debrief this week. I’ll be going back soon to see one of their morning force briefings which is also done by teleconference. I’m keen to look at how they do this and how they use technology to improve communications from the very top of the service to the sharp end. The review of IT will help us to look at ways of doing this.

There’s plenty more in the College of Policing review, I may revisit it at a later stage.

Wearing a uniform with pride

This Saturday was Armed Services Day. Across the UK people gathered together, shared thoughts over social media, or just took a moment to reflect on the commitment of our armed services. I had the opportunity and privilege of attending a drumhead ceremony in Bradford to represent West Yorkshire FRS. Sitting there at the service and looking around it was impossible not to notice the veterans, cadets, reservists, patrolling Police officers and our own WYFRS band all identified by, and resplendent in, their uniforms and medals. 

Wearing my uniform is a source of immense pride for me. It is a privilege that comes with my job. When I wear my uniform I am reminded of the traditions and heritage of our service. I am reminded that I am part of a team who all serve the public with the common purpose of keeping our community safe and protecting people from harm. My uniform identifies me to the community as someone who is there to help. I also wear different types of uniform. On a day to day basis I wear regular uniform, occasionally I will wear more formal uniform such as in the picture above, and when I attend incidents I wear a uniform that also happens to be my personal protective equipment. When I do wear my uniform I am always mindful of the need and expectation that I am smart and promoting the image of our service positively.

I also wear rank markings and rank insignia. There are different views on this issue. Some believe that the use of rank markings is outdated in what is essentially a civilian organisation. I wear my rank markings because they denote the responsibility that I carry, and I want people to know that I am accountable and that I am expected to lead. I have aspired for rank for much of my career. I wanted rank because I want to lead and shape our wonderful service, and to make it the best that it can be. In a service where there is an occasional view that rank markings are things of the past, I unashamedly wear mine with pride.

Do these views indicate that I think that anyone in our service who doesn’t wear a uniform or wear rank markings is not capable of leading, of being accountable or contributing to the future of our service? Absolutely not! What makes our service such an excellent one to be part of is the way that everyone, whatever they wear and whatever their role has a voice and a contribution to make. It’s not always as easy as it should be and we need to be better at that.

There are many views in our service about the wearing of uniform. It can be divisive. We have ‘uniform’ and ‘non-uniform’ staff, it’s part of our common terminology. Some of those ‘non-uniformed’ staff are simply not operational – but they still wear a uniform, some of them wear overalls – because that’s appropriate to their role, but it’s still a uniform of sorts. There are of course those that wear what they want to work as long, of course, as they conform to a dress code. Some of these may want to wear a uniform, some may not. It’s a complicated issue, and it’s impossible to please everyone.

 I think that we in WYFRS can have a conversation about uniform and workwear. I know that is something that will elicit a range of views. There is not a huge amount of money available, so any change needs to be considered carefully and be based on a clear rationale to improve and progress.

There are days when I don’t wear a uniform. I may wear a suit and tie. I do this for one reason only. It’s not because I think that some people are wary of a uniform, I hope that the person wearing it (me in this case) dispels any need to be wary or suspicious of my role. The reason that I, on occasion, don’t wear a uniform is because I am travelling extensively outside of service premises or using public transport. On these occasions, unfortunately, my uniform may single me out as a target for those seeking to harm. I wear my uniform with pride, but I take sensible precautions when I consider the risk of harm from terrorists or others.

The motivation that drives those that want to harm our armed and protective services is complicated. Whilst I will never agree with their ideology, I can see how they rationalise their actions. Such actions are abhorrent and contrary to our culture – but that’s the point. It’s why we must, more than ever, consider what wearing a uniform means and celebrate the positive effect on our world by those that do.

In control of Control

I had a small glimpse into the future last week. Along with colleagues from West Yorkshire Police we visited Merseyside to look at their Joint Control Centre. This is a joint project between the Fire and Police services in Merseyside that brings both control rooms onto one site (currently with a door in between i.e not the same room), but which also provides an excellent joint command facility for major multi-agency events. Also on site are operational planning teams for the two services, and indeed some of the local authorities and the local ambulance service.

 This particular project came about as a consequence of a moment in time when, politically and operationally, a chance presented itself that was just too good to miss for our colleagues in Merseyside. I congratulate them for their vision in doing so. Could it happen in West Yorkshire? I think that the answer has to be that given the right circumstances anything is possible, and you can’t fault the business and operational sense in such move. Our team in West Yorkshire Fire Control are still settling into our new facility in Leeds, I don’t want to set hares running and suggest that we may be moving again – far from it, but with all of the ongoing discussions about the future role of the Police and Crime Commissioner, and the undeniable good sense of the Merseyside model, it would be wrong to say never.

Those that know me will know that Fire Control is a part of the FRS that I feel that we hugely undervalue. Any notion that the 999 control rooms are merely providers of call answering and despatch services is both short sighted and failing to recognise the potential that lies within. The ill fated national FiReControl project left a legacy for many of neglect and under investment in this key element of service delivery. Staff and their future prospects were frozen in time, and the market and desire for innovation and development within this sector of operations slowed to a crawl as the spectre of regionalised controls hung in the air. But that is now over, and the opportunity for change and a reprofiling of our Fire Control is with us.

 In common with many others, WYFRS has invested significantly in a new Command & Control system, and like many others has done this in collaboration with a neighbouring FRS. The transition from the old to the new is a bumpy journey, as is the case with many (all?) significant projects, especially, dare I say, those with a heavy dependence upon IT. But with hard work by many, and a desire to make it happen, a steady state will be reached. That is the time, in my opinion, to look carefully at how we best make use of this important asset, which for the sake of clarity includes the people and the ‘things’.

Intelligence led mobilising is the obvious low hanging fruit. Whilst already embraced to some extent, the opportunity to design and deliver a new balance between the conflicting need to speedily mobilise resources and to extract ever more information from the potentially distressed caller is something for us to look at. There is a discussion to be had in coming months and years about how we respond to incidents and with what resources. The shift away from the standard ‘big red lorry’ has already begun with the introduction of FRUs (small fire units to those in other FRS) and there may be further opportunity as we look into future ways of responding to a range of incident types. Many may read these comments as some code for something that is measurably ‘less’ in some aspect, that is not necessarily the case – I am talking about a response to incidents that matches the actual risk presented, and takes account of as many of the associated factors as we can readily and speedily capture, before deciding what resources to send to that particular and unique incident. Again, I hear cries that ‘we do that anyway’ but this can be the norm not the exception. I’m also mindful that our Fire Control is a 24 hour presence, 365 days a year and is (broadly speaking) staffed at the same level all the time. Resilience within this setting is important, you can’t ‘make up’ in Fire Control when the calls come in to a large incident, you have to manage with what you have immediately available. Of course there are peaks and troughs to the management of any ordinary day, and any incident too. Ongoing resilience for major and ongoing incidents is manageable given time, but the immediate surge needs people to do what they are good at, and to react to the public and support those crews and officers who are deployed to incidents. I think that there is an opportunity to discuss how we can achieve this and simultaneously enhance the support that Fire Control can provide the service, and look at how we may also deliver something extra in these times of austerity.

The concept of regional and national resilience promised by the FireControl project was not a wholly bad concept, it was however poorly executed. Large incidents either within service or across borders will always require co-ordination and management, including those critical strategic incidents. The mobilisation and receipt of resources to/from other FRS is hellishly complicated without a national call sign plan. The sharing of information and intelligence about dynamic and challenging Counter Terrorism related events requires some co-ordination and the soon to be refreshed National Co-ordination & Advisory Framework (NCAF) document gives a structure around which to do that – the role of the FRS control being fundamental to success. The notion of local expertise and knowledge is still important to me, and whilst technology will play a more important role in the future there are still more pros than cons to retaining that local expertise both in terms of topographical information and FRS capability. Again we must be looking in the not too distant future around achieving efficiencies through improved cross border working, and that will bring increasingly common ways of working. I think that our FIre Control staff do a fantastic job, and are a key part of how we deliver our service to the community. 

As the service continues to change and evolve, my challenge as it is to all other staff, is to look at the equipment, systems and skills at their disposal and look for ways to make our service even better. Their role in respect of prevention and wider community safety is ripe for development. The physical security system that keeps many Control rooms (rightly) protected is also an artificial barrier to wider working. I’d like to see more people going through that locked door (both ways) in order to better understand respective roles, and to look for ways to make each other’s day better and more effective. The challenge is there then, the future is bright in my opinion, but the time for evolutionary change is here and we must embrace it.