It’s been one month since our new Chief Fire Officer, Phill Shillito has been in post. As part of this change the Corporate Communications team sat down with Phil to find out how his first month has been and the plans he has to lead HFRS into the future. How have you found your first month as Chief Fire Officer?
It’s been very different from Deputy Chief Fire Officer, I worked very closely with Chris when he was the Chief. The Deputy's role was very much focused on delivery, very much inward focused but now in the role of Chief Fire Officer I spend a lot of time trying to influence change in different ways. I've already written letters to ministers about the funding shortfall around pay for Green Book and Grey Book colleagues. I've written out to our local MPs twice, met a number of them already and have other meetings planned with them to talk about fire reform and the wider factors affecting the sector.
Have there been any surprises or challenges of note?
It's fair to say we're a new team, a new Chief Fire Officer, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, and new Assistant Chief Fire Officer, but we've got a lot of Service experience between us. We've also got three new Area Managers, and Christine Cooper our Executive Director of HR has only been with the Service for less than a year. We are quite reliant on Kevin Wilson our Executive Director of Finance, who joined the Service in 2007.He's the longest-serving member of the executive team and got an extensive amount of corporate and professional knowledge that’s helping us greatly.
As we look towards next year what are the key areas for the Service?
I am really keen to provide stability and continuity whilst building on our recent HMICFRS inspection to identify opportunities for improvement. His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspectors rated the Service as Good across all three pillars and their subcategories and this is a fantastic reflection on the hard work and commitment of colleagues across the service. This gives us a great foundation to build on. The plans we have in place are good and unlikely to change before 2024, but that doesn't mean we shouldn’t keep looking for opportunities and finding new ways to improve.
We need to keep challenging ourselves; can we do things differently, can we be better, can we improve our service to the community. As a Public Service, we must provide value for money to our communities, as the Service is funded through a range of government grants and local Council Tax. We must be able to respond to the identified risks within our area and those affecting the fire sector as part of our Community Risk Management Plan. This means providing our staff with the right equipment and resources they need to help keep our communities safe.
Our Fire Authority is behind this 100% and realises the importance of our staff having the right equipment and training to be able to respond efficiently and effectively to fulfil their duties. An example of this was the introduction of new personal protective equipment for firefighters and the introduction of our rescue jackets to be worn at RTC (Road Traffic Collision) incidents, making it easier for firefighters to respond to vehicles that are involved in collisions to provide that essential rescue for the casualty.
After the major floods in 2007, the Service invested approx. £800K in equipment to help our communities in the eventuality of future flooding, and still to this day, the fire service is not funded for responding to floods. DEFRA doesn't recognise that, and the Home Office doesn’t recognise that either despite numerous reports that made recommendations stating we should be funded, and that Fire Services should be a key responder to flood incidents. We are likely to see similar levels of investment required now to deal with the risks related to climate change and increased periods of hot weather which will continue to impact across the Humber area.
How the service is committed to its environmental impact
We have the environmental working group that are doing some fantastic work around baselining where we are currently to help the Service capture ongoing changes and demonstrate the positive impact, they are having to reduce our carbon footprint. We're looking at how we can reduce our impact on the environment in a number of different ways, from a training perspective by moving away from carbonaceous burns and using alternative heat and smoke to recreate realistic building fire conditions and looking at salary sacrifice schemes for electric cars as just two examples.
Committed to our staff Health and Well-being
The Health and Wellbeing of our staff is really important to me. Since our Head of Occupational Health and well-being, Lisa Smith joined the Service a couple of years ago, we're seeing some massive improvements in the availability and access to support and well-being services for all staff and their families. I have discussed this area of work extensively with Lisa and I am fully supportive of the work her and the team are developing. Building on the work between the FBU (Fire Brigades Union) and the sector regarding contaminants and studies around cancers, teams are working on the clean cab policy for fire engines that will see BA sets in lockers rather than the cab to reduce the risk of contaminants. The service is also exploring BA set washing machines similar to those in use by overseas services to properly clean the equipment after wearing. We’re a listening and learning organisation
One of the comments from last year’s HMICFRS survey was on the lack of visibility of senior staff, what that survey doesn’t tell us is what is considered senior, for me, I think it’s important that people in senior leadership and strategic leadership roles are visible and are accessible to all staff. I’m keen that we continue to use flexible working promoting a balance of working remotely and from different locations, different teams, and departments across the organisation. It’s a way to build relations and be a listening and learning organisation and provides a point of contact so staff can discuss topics and ideas.
Working with local employees and the benefits of On-Call
Our On-Call staff are so important in delivering our service to communities, they make up almost 50% of our operational response to incidents. I’m thankful that we have local employers that believe in the shared benefits of having their staff trained to be On-Call firefighters and allow them to respond to incidents in their area. They bring so many leadership and team building skills as well as first aid and staying calm in an emergency. They also provide ideas from a community perspective that supports the local service. I highly recommend employers look at this as an investment for their staff. We do have high standards to join the service but if people are interested, I would encourage them to find out more about being an On-Call firefighter and the benefits it brings.