EXCLUSIVE: Fire appliance evolution seeks to do more with less
As cutbacks restrict service spending on vehicles, FIRE Correspondent David Wright looks at the various options for managing risk.
In the same way that fusion power will eventually be developed as the result of a lack of fossil fuels, it was always going to be that the recession was going to cause fire and rescue services to re-examine the way that they deliver their services.
Both what services can be provided and how the residual activities will be managed will come under scrutiny. Some of the changes may be radical, many will be challenging to the managers who have to sell them, to the staff who have to deliver them and to the members of the public who receive them.
We all know that form follows function and that in these times of cutbacks, function is likely to follow the budget. One of the challenges that FRSs will face is maintaining the best levels of cover they can while reducing overall spend: the government ideal of 'doing more with less' may be optimistic but some changes may actually help improve services, particularly where speed of attendance is more important than weight of first attendance.
Weight and Speed of Attendance
The two approaches of weight of attendance and speed of attendance of resources at operational incidents have always been the subject of debate. Is a faster attendance at a life-threatening incident better than having a larger attendance where safer systems of work can be introduced quicker upon arrival? This has been a topic of debate for decades and has led to the development of rapid intervention vehicles, eight person crew cabs etc, along with other inventive solutions to crewing reductions while meeting service and community needs.
The modern fire appliance can deal with virtually any type of incident, either by itself or with support. It is a jack of all trades, evolved with the changing nature of the service to incorporate a wider range of kit, for dealing with fires, road accident work, Hazmat incidents etc. In some services, the specialist rescue tender has been made redundant as the current generation of vehicles are equipped with equipment and tools that make the mobilisation of additional supporting vehicles superfluous.
While the traditional 'fire engine' is state of the art and as one could expect, the best tool ever, things are likely to change directly as a result of the recession and the impact of the cuts on the Service.
A reduction in the government grant to fire and rescue services of 25 per cent or thereabouts will require savings of between six per cent and 17 per cent in actual spend. More than 70 per cent of spend is on staff and inevitably, some positions will be lost and, given the relative cost of wholetime firefighters, it is likely the bulk of savings will be achieved this way. Given this scenario, a radical approach to managing incidents incorporating the new staffing reality is required and services are changing the way they approach managing incidents.
There are a number of vehicle types that can help meet the needs of the new reduced service while still meeting the functional needs: these include the fast response vehicles, dual purpose appliances and specific incident response units.
A wide range of incidents can be dealt with quite reasonably by fewer than the normal complement of four or five firefighters − the crewing level determined originally by the operator demands caused by the need to handle ladders, wheeled escapes and portable pumps around the fireground. While the demand for such equipment remains, there is likely to be a need to retain the traditional pump to a degree, but alternative strategies are beginning to be considered.
Already services are using a single firefighter on a motorbike to attend incidents involving fire alarms actuating while other services are now introducing small vehicles to attend alarms and smaller incidents with crews of two or three. Apart from the obvious saving in staff costs - crewing costs are about £150,000 per year per motorcycle compared with £900,000-£1,200,000 for a standard crewed appliance - the motorcycle response provides a quicker attendance time and minimises disruption to other staff who may be involved in other activities.
The downside to this approach is that a single firefighter, in the event of the incident being a fire instead of 'just another alarm', will be on his or her own until additional resources attend. They could be under pressure by owners and occupiers to act and do something, exposing that firefighter to possible risk.
Given that this 'moral dilemma' is a foreseeable risk, services will need to ensure that effective risk management and control systems are in place to prevent undue exposure to this risk. Furthermore, motorcycle riders have a 16 times greater risk of a serious accident than other forms of road transport and this places the rider in an exposed situation whist attending the incident.
Certainly the ambulance service which extensively uses motorcycles as a means of responding to incidents (generally to stop the clock ticking on their attendance time and improving nationally set target times in the larger cities) have had a number of serious incidents involving motorcycles.
See next issue of FIRE for full report.
Posted October 31st, 2011 at 1545 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: email@example.com
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