Brains trust fills in the knowledge gap

‘It seems that rarely does a week go by when one more chief announces it is time to call it a day’ notes our correspondent on pg 15 commenting on the second tranche of inspections in her article ‘Managing performance and developing leaders: Why is it so hard to be good?’

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services acknowledge the problem. ‘We understand that a significant number of senior leaders – possibly around 20 per cent of chief fire officers – are expected to retire from the Fire and Rescue Service over the next two years, which is likely to result in a rapid “leadership drain”.’

It is a problem that has not arisen overnight and impacts the entire management of the Fire and Rescue Service, as observed back in 2015 in Adrian Thomas’s seldom quoted review into conditions of service, where in the finest traditions of Fire Service reports, few of his recommendations have been heeded. ‘To create and maintain (in the face of decreasing numbers) a cadre of managers capable of becoming future fire and rescue service leaders, a standardised industry wide approach to leadership development should be adopted’. Which it most certainly wasn’t.

He also recommended a collaborative approach to succession planning ‘with more cross authority developmental moves’ and fast tracking managers ‘through the experiential requirements and into senior roles’. Not much sign of that either.

Although, to be fair, the tranche one summary report by HMI recognises some gains. ‘We are encouraged that a small number of fire and rescue services have looked outside the fire and rescue sector to bring in talented individuals at senior management level. Such leaders will bring diversity of thought and experience. This is an important opportunity for services that must provide a modern public service in financially restricted times’.

An unhappy domino effect of sudden departures is the loss of organisational know-how, a serious issue when considering the implications for operational response post-Grenfell.

There has been a good deal of activity from the likes of the National Fire Chiefs Council in ensuring valuable lessons learned are captured through National Operational Guidance. It is an area of understanding we are helping reinforce through our latest publication, Fire and Rescue Incident Command: A practical guide to incident ground management (see pg 25), but there is so much ground to cover to in terms of operational assurance.

The formation of FIRE magazine’s new publisher, Fire Knowledge, came about through wanting to utilise the skills and experience of senior leaders and fire sector specialists to ensure lessons learned will be put back into the sector for future generations. There are a number of avenues to pursue in order to accomplish this not inconsiderable task, not least in continuing to investigate performance and propagate best practice in FIRE magazine.

The first of our Fire Knowledge Briefings, Fire risk dilemma: Postcode lottery or national standards? will take place on October 15 in London (see pg 11) and will set the tone in providing inside knowledge on the subjects that matter. The development of our consultancy services through the Fire Knowledge Network will likewise raise the bar in providing high-level advice from competent specialists. Less a ‘brain drain’ more of a ‘brains trust’.

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