FIRE Comment September 2020

FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch argues that the Fire and Rescue Service is an under-funded resource that is a vital component of the UK’s national resilience

To do more, we need more’ CFO John Buckley, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Finance Committee, says on pg 8 in reference to the forthcoming Spending Review. Fire and rescue services are willing to take on more and change how they work, he says, evidenced during the pandemic with 14 additional activities being taken on. This amounts to 400,000 FRS Covid-19 actions, NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher confirms on pg 9.

The immediate concern of adequate funding against an uncertain economic climate should not cloud the emerging picture of a Service that has stepped up to the mark and laid down clear indicators of how it can contribute to national resilience going forward. The Service is resilient in itself with overall absence at 3.6 per cent and Covid-related absence at just 1.5 per cent.

This issue FIRE focuses on Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s response, valuing on-call firefighters in particular. A snapshot from the county shows that for three months 19 on-call firefighters joined NHS staff on the frontline to work as ambulance drivers putting in 8,350 hours to 4,175 emergency calls, enabling an extra 700 ambulances to be made available during the pandemic.

Essex PFCC Roger Hirst says: “On-call firefighters play a vital role right within the very heart of their communities and they make such a difference… They enabled Essex to lead the way in terms of collaboration, providing the best possible service to the public at a very difficult and challenging time.”

It is a trend that has been echoed across the country covering a range of critical supporting activities in partnership with emergency service colleagues, NHS and community partners. All of this despite a 21.7 per cent decrease in wholetime firefighters since 2010.

FIRE’s campaign to see a Charter for Resilience states: ‘Community cohesion, collaboration and resilience are built into the fabric of daily life and form the cornerstone to national resilience’. The Fire and Rescue Service is integral to this, as it is to another two of the seven key tenets: ‘A rapid response to all national threats is engrained at local, regional and national levels’, and ‘The supporting infrastructure is in place to ensure effective and timely response’.

The FBU’s General Secretary Matt Wrack and NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher have argued that fire services need to be resourced to risk as well as demand and CFO Buckley says maintaining firefighter numbers and better resilience are also considerations to ensure fire and rescue services can continue to provide the services communities expect.

The resilience factor is a super selling point. It is something the public expect without fanfare – whether shoring up their front doors with sandbags on the advent of major flooding or fighting heath fires on Chobham Common – whilst Covid-related delivery of PPE vital to the NHS continues unabated. Beneath it all though there is an expectation of assistance and rescue, whatever the occasion, whatever the livery. The unknown quantity is the breadth and depth of skilled response from what could be better termed the Fire and Resilience Service.

As FIRE continues our call for a Charter for Resilience, an integral element has already justified its inclusion and expansion demonstrating innovation, flexibility and scalability to meet community demand in the face of disaster. Let’s hope the next spending round reflects that reality and the government recognises an integral element needed to build a resilient society.

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