Exclusive: New chairman’s mission to protect Londoners
FIRE talks to London Assembly Member James Cleverly, Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, to discuss Olympic preparations and his priority of protecting Londoners.
FIRE: What do you think of London Fire Brigade's contribution to safeguarding visitors during the Olympic Games?
JC: I think the Olympics have shown the Brigade at its most proactive and at its best. I went along to the Olympic Park with the Commissioner at the end of May and talked to the team who have been working there for the last few years. They were so clearly on top of their brief, it was incredibly impressive. I thought I'd go in there with my usual awkward questions to make sure they're on top of things. I very quickly realised that there was no question I could think of that they hadn't already thought through, worked around or planned to death.
The fact that LFB had been working on the Games since their inception, the fact that they'd been talking to the people that created the village and the stadia showed how proactive they'd been. A large part of the Brigade's work is preventing problems happening in the first place. They do that really, really well. But also in terms of the planned response, the escalation of response, how you deal with a small incident, how problems get worsen, how you interact with the other emergency services, how you interact with the non-emergency services - it was all really, really impressive.
One of the big things we're going to look at post Olympics is making sure that quality of work is mainstreamed and becomes the norm: that we don't just learn lessons in the short term and forget them in the long term. Because I do think the work that has been done is genuinely brilliant. However, the vast majority of Londoners are not going to be at the Olympic Park − there's still the rest of London to look after this summer. You've still got the various outdoor venues where people are going to be congregating. It's about getting on the front foot with that too. Overall, I couldn't imagine how we could have done it more slickly or better − it's been incredibly impressive.
FIRE: You come into the job at a difficult time.
JC: I think the nature of the relationship between the former Chairman and the Brigade, particularly the bit of the Brigade that's in stations and on pumps, got to the stage where there was so much antagonism that it was really difficult for a conversation to take place. It meant that what Brian [Coleman] was saying wasn't really heard, and to be fair, sometimes what firefighters were saying wasn't really being heard. That is never the formula for a productive relationship. All of that contributed to firefighters not really knowing what the direction of travel was and that's unsettling. They didn't really know what the framework was for making decisions and that's scary. However, I've got an opportunity − right from the beginning there's a huge amount of curiosity and goodwill towards me.
FIRE: What will you do differently?
JC: I want all elements of the Brigade, from this office down to the newest firefighter on a pump, to be talking to each other as one team. That's very much as I see it: we're very much the team that protects Londoners from fire and harm. That is the team, singular: there is no 'us' and 'them', there is only us and we're all on the same side. Sometimes we will have, like any normal family does, domestics and a bit of a row, but the bottom line is that everyone understands that they are part of the same team. Our duty, from the Chairman's office to our newest firefighters, is the protection of Londoners and the only way we're going to make this work in tough times is to talk, to understand and to listen to each other's ideas and give feedback.
In the modern world it's easier to do this than it has ever been in the past. I go on to Twitter and make a comment and I get dozens of firefighters coming back with ideas. Five years ago that would have been impossible. So I've got some advantages, particularly that willingness to interact. I do think that the Brigade, the firefighters I've interacted with, have really valued the opportunity to have a say and be listened to. That's the biggest thing: they absolutely have to feel they're being listened to, even if I can't always act on the information I've got or act in a way they would like − they feel they have got a voice and that voice is being listened to and taken seriously.
See July/August issue of FIRE for interview in full.
Posted July 24th, 2012 at 1130 by Andrew. Comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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