Dennis Davis appeals to Service leaders to press for genuine change.
Unlike previous changes the current Fire and Rescue Service one does not follow a local government review or even the deconstruction of the Wartime National Fire Service, but is arguably almost as profound. What we have is a new landscape - one I tend to call the Do IT Yourself FRS since it is very much the opposite of centralism or however you might wish to classify the previous approach. This one as we know is connected to Localism and the Big Society where each FRA with CFOA leadership is expected to forge their own way ahead.
The response from the Minister to the Fire Future debate illustrates the point. Originally this debate was restricted to the LGA and CFOA but then widened and inputs were made from outside the FRS through the National Interest Workstream. The built environment, workforce development and research emerged as key issues.
The Minister's response in publishing nearly 150 recommendations - dumping only seven, including the UK having a new central agency, a sort of UK version of US Homeland Security - reinforces the DIY point. Fire and rescue authorities now have 113 ideas to choose to do what they want with, whilst accepting another seven where the government would support the FRA because they relate to national resilience.
Given the precarious public financial situation the big decision in this DIY landscape is whether you were a missionary or cannibal. Should you simply go for the low hanging fruit, save money and run, or stick it out to change the way the FRS actually works in the future?
My own view is the future needed a new relationship - one that recognises that many of the improvements of the past 50 years in fire related deaths and injuries have arisen from fire safety changing our environment and improving consumer products. In the home fireguards, nightdresses, foam filled furniture, smoke detection were significant (soon to be joined by RIP cigarettes). That is why it is good to learn that the Fire Kills campaign has been retained at least for another year
In the built environment we managed fire growth in compartments through materials and construction methods, compartmentation and control through standards and codes. But control of the built environment is moving away as compartments grow in size, codes shift from prescription to performance and modern methods of construction linked sometimes with poor workmanship, lower safety.
Fire and rescue authorities can still have an impact of course, like Devon and Somerset shining a light in a dark corner of the housing rental market just as Manchester did all those years ago when it challenged the furniture industry to improve after a series of whole family deaths in their area.
But so to can the fire sector, with all its elements of influence in active and passive protection, training and education, and consumer and FRS research and development, and sense suggests it must be involved in any future FRS and national fire strategy.
Public private partnerships may have been defined, used and even abused in the past but fragmentation is not the answer. And neither is this simply about saving money in hard times. What we need is a genuine and mature series of conversations that allow the whole sector to become engaged where they can in improving still further the UK response to fire.