FIRE speaks to Roy Wilsher about the priorities for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and his role as Chief Fire Officer
FIRE: As the Chief Fire Officer, what are the major challenges facing you in the next decade?
RW:Foremost amongst all the challenges facing us, is the financial one. We all know what the financial situation is in the country and globally at the moment, particularly in regard to the public sector. Part of the problem in Hertfordshire is that in the 1990s we were already doing things that are even now considered modernisation - such as shift patterns and not primarily crewing specials, so it's very hard to take that next step when so many readily available savings are already in place. We have to provide the same level of service, but with probably less people. Another challenge on the horizon is the Olympics. We are probably about ten miles away as the crow flies to the Olympic park so we've got all the resilience type issues such as backing up our colleagues in London. There is also the Olympic event in Hertfordshire. Equality and diversity continues to be an issue. We're quite successful here, and have just gone through a recruitment campaign where we've doubled the amount of BME applicants. We have a fairly consistent 18-20 per cent of female applicants as well, which is really good. We are just about to report to the County Council Cabinet on our ten year diversity strategy.
FIRE: What are the big issues facing your FRS in particular?
RW: In the first 18 months of my being Chief, we really had some major issues. I took over just after Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller died at Harrow Court, then we had Buncefield, then we had local strikes, then Paul Mallaghan died on the A1M. Within two years, those four things happened. I think when you have dealt with the aftermath of those incidents, you do not realise how much time and effort that takes away from just improving the services. Since the back-end of 2007, we've really been able to concentrate on improving and moving forward. I think the big problem from now on is the financial challenge. We've talked to every individual in this FRS face-to-face, and come up with around 240 ideas. They've been distilled down to about 65 regarding how we can save money and change things. The Regional Control project is a challenge for everyone. However, we're in the fortunate position that when the project was first announced I and other members took the strategic decision to continue to invest in our own control. As a result, it was an excellent control the day we handed over. We have GPS mobilising and we work in partnership with Norfolk. We can each remotely mobilise each other's service so enhancing our resilience.
FIRE: Is fire safety given the prominence it should be? What could be done by all services to reinvigorate its profile?
RW: Community fire safety is well-embedded in Hertfordshire. We have schemes right across the range - from young to older people, Duke of Edinburgh's Award, Prince's Trust, LiFE schemes, Excel schemes. It is at the forefront of firefighters' minds, and they enjoy that work. We also have a good fire protection department, which we are looking to improve. We just had a seminar with housing associations, and about 50 attended. Some people say that there is too much time spent on community safety and not enough on firefighter training, but that's not my view. In Hertfordshire it is compulsory to do at least two hours training every time you come on duty. Although as we become more and more successful with community safety, there are less fires and so less on-the-job training. We need to make sure we're doing more in-house training so that firefighters are safe when they go to fires.
FIRE: What are the issues of influence and liability associated with your FRS?
RW: Influence has been important in terms of being a county council fire service. One of the frustrations of being that is that guidance and questions have always been geared to standalone fire authorities and chairs of fire authorities, and we're set up completely differently. I answer to one politician, and I have many delegated powers - I don't have to take so many reports to cabinet. A prime example is requests for information. Whether it's CLG or NJC who ask for our HR department to complete a return which is not readily available information, I have to write back explaining I don't have an HR department - I'm in a queue with schools and families, adult care services, but I will get this done for you when I can. So I helped, along with other colleagues from county councils, to re-invigorate the county chiefs meeting and a county meeting at the LGA Fire conference.