The Duke of Cambridge introduces Spirit of Fire Awards 2020

His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge introduced The Fire Fighters Charity’s virtual Spirit of Fire Awards via a recorded video

Opening the ceremony – which recognises the support given to the charity by Fire and Rescue Service personnel across the UK – The Duke spoke of the challenges faced by Fire Service personnel in the wake of Covid-19, reiterating why it is so important that they know where to turn when they need support themselves.

The Duke also announced the winner of the evening’s first award– the Special Recognition Award for Excellence in The Field of Mental Health – which was awarded to Shilla Patel, Inclusion Manager at London Fire Brigade. Shilla launched United Minds, the Brigade’s first mental health support network, in March 2019 to break stigma and help staff to access support when they need it.

A further 13 awards were announced by a host of famous faces over the course of the evening, including: Brian May, Michael Sheen, Dame Julie Walters, Clare Balding, Simon Day, Reverend Kate Botley, Dame Katherine Grainger, Jason Watkins, Adam Hills, Susanna Reid, Les Ferdinand, Maddie Moate and Greg Foot.

The Spirit of Fire Awards recognise the fundraising and awareness-raising achievements of members of the UK’s fire services community in their support of The Fire Fighters Charity, as well as the courage of the charity’s beneficiaries in the face of personal adversity.

Usually held in London, with a reception at No.10 Downing Street, the Coronavirus pandemic meant that the charity took the awards ceremony online in 2020 for the first time.

The Fire Fighters Charity Chief Executive, Dr Jill Tolfrey, said of the ceremony: “We were honoured to once again welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge to The Fire Fighters Charity, this time to open the Spirit of Fire Awards and to announce the winner of our Special Recognition Award for Excellence in the Field of Mental Health.

“Spirit of Fire is always a special occasion and this year, as we were unable to celebrate in person, I hope that marking the achievements of our incredible and very deserving supporters online – with the help of The Duke and our celebrity guests – provided a ray of sunshine for the fire services community at this difficult time. On behalf of the whole charity, my congratulations and immense gratitude go to all our nominees and winners.”

Greater Manchester’s Covid challenges

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s new Chief Fire Officer, Dave Russel, talks about the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 restrictions and organisational transformation

Wigan-born Dave Russel moved to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) on September 7, 2020 from neighbouring Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, where he held the role of Deputy Chief Fire Officer and worked for 29 years.

PLACE IMAGE Dave_new.jpg

CFO Russel said: “It is an honour and a privilege to lead such a prominent fire and rescue service and I am totally committed to contributing to the further development and improvement of GMFRS.

“I firmly believe understanding people precedes leading them and I intend to visit every fire station and every department to listen, observe and learn – to truly get under the service’s skin, find out what makes it tick and to understand the challenges and opportunities we face across all parts of the organisation.”

Since September, despite the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 restrictions, Dave has been getting to know the service by visiting crews across the city-region. He said: “It is certainly a challenge to join a new organisation during a global pandemic, but in my first few weeks I have been struck by the commitment, professionalism and pride in the service and I’d like to thank those who have taken the time to share their views with me.

“GMFRS staff have also been supporting the city-region’s response to Covid-19 since the Spring, including more recently the Greater Manchester Covid Contacts Support Service to support test and trace activity, while dealing with our own challenges as a result of the pandemic.”

The service has recently launched its new vision, mission and values and has been going through a period of organisational transformation. This has also included the development of a leadership, culture and people plan; the launch of the GMFRS equality, diversity and inclusivity strategy and firefighter attraction strategy; the introduction of the NFCC leadership framework; and the launch of two best companies staff surveys.

Dave said: “Our vision to be a modern, flexible and resilient fire and rescue service will remain, as will our mission to save lives, protect communities and work together. I am unequivocal in my view that the primary role of GMFRS is to deliver an emergency response service to the people of Greater Manchester – central to which is firefighter and public safety.  

“The services that we currently provide to the public will need to evolve and adapt to an ever-evolving and rapidly changing Greater Manchester. We are here to provide effective prevention, protection and response, and to enable this to happen we need strong structures and supporting corporate functions that are geared towards our mission.”

Urgent action needed to protect firefighters from cancer risk

Research has revealed the serious health risks to UK firefighters following exposure to toxic fire effluents, the chemicals emitted during a fire, in an independent University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) report commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union

The work is a UK first and the latest in a growing body of international evidence suggesting an increased risk of firefighters developing cancer and other diseases. Fires produce a cocktail of toxic, irritant and carcinogenic chemicals in the form of aerosols, dusts, fibres, smoke and fumes or gases and vapours. The report includes a summary of UCLan’s testing on-site at 18 fire stations as well as over 10,000 responses to a national firefighter survey run jointly between the FBU and UCLan.

Indoor air testing at a number of fire stations and training centres highlighted that UK firefighters are still being exposed to the high levels of toxic contaminants during and after a fire, as cancer-causing chemicals remain on PPE clothing, equipment, and elsewhere at the fireground. Test samples revealed carcinogens inside firefighters’ helmets, on PPE, and even on breathing apparatus mask filters.

More than 10,000 currently-serving firefighters were surveyed in order to better understand UK decontamination practices and the prevalence of illness, revealing:

  • 4.1 per cent of survey respondents had already been diagnosed with cancer, compared with less than one per cent of the general population. Three quarters have served for at least ten years before receiving their diagnosis. More than half were under the age of 50 and a fifth were under 40.
  • Of those diagnosed, 26 per cent have skin cancer, the most common, followed by testicular cancer (ten per cent), head and neck cancer (four per cent) and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (three per cent).
  • Half of the survey respondents do not think their fire service takes decontamination practices, including cleaning PPE and equipment, seriously.
  • One in five of the survey respondents store their fire gloves in their boots, one in five store in their pockets, and one in ten store in their helmet, risking the transfer of toxic contaminants directly to skin.
  • Nearly half of the survey respondents felt there was a “badge of honour” attitude in the service, particularly when emerging from fires with contaminants on their PPE or face as a sign of hard work.

Scientists have created a best practice guide for fire and rescue services, putting forward a number of urgent recommendations to minimise firefighters’ exposure to toxic fire effluents. This includes:

  • Every fire and rescue service must implement fully risk-assessed decontamination procedures en-route to, during and after fire incidents, and ensure all relevant staff are trained in implementing these procedures.
  • Fire and rescue personnel should receive regular and up-to-date training on the harmful health effects of exposure to toxic fire effluents, and how these exposures can be reduced, minimised or eliminated.
  • Firefighters should wear respiratory protective equipment at all times while firefighting, including after a fire has been extinguished, but is still ‘gassing off’.
  • PPE should be clean and should be thoroughly decontaminated after every incident to avoid a build-up of toxic contaminants.
  • Firefighters should shower within an hour of returning from incidents.
  • Regular health screening and recording attendance at fire incidents over the course of a firefighter’s career is strongly advised and will be key to the longer-term monitoring and management of their health.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack told FIRE magazine: “As firefighters, we all know of a colleague or former colleague that has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness – and many will have lost their lives.

“In the United States, this issue was brought to the fore of public consciousness after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the years since, 221 firefighters have died from cancer and other illnesses related to the attack. But here in the UK, there is a frightening lack of research into the effects of the firefighting job on the long-term health of those on the front line.

“That is what led the FBU, with funding from the Firefighters 100 Lottery, to commission independent, ground-breaking research, led by Professor Anna Stec from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), into the link between firefighters’ occupational exposure to toxic fire effluents, and their risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

“While the report has some hard truths for fire and rescue services, if its recommendations are treated with urgency more might finally be done to protect firefighters from cancer and other illnesses.

“Professor Stec is the UK’s leading academic authority on fire chemistry and toxicology. For this stage of the research, her team of researchers summarised existing scientific evidence through a comprehensive literature review, before conducting contaminant testing on-site at a number of fire and rescue service stations in the UK, analysing over 1,000 collected samples.

“With assistance from the FBU and many willing fire and rescue services, the team also surveyed over 10,000 firefighters and analysed the range of decontamination practices implemented by brigades in the UK and around the world.

“The scientists put forward a number of urgent recommendations to fire and rescue services. Some behavioural changes are required among firefighters and it will be the responsibility of their brigade to bring forward the proper training and practices needed to keep them safe.

“From fully risk-assessed decontamination procedures, to the proper cleaning of PPE and equipment, it will be a matter of practice and process to implement the report’s recommendations. Firefighters should be encouraged to have regular health screenings and record their attendance at incidents over the course of their career.

“Ahead of the release of UCLan’s report, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) implement its recommendations on improving firefighters’ work environments. In response the government confirmed that it would instruct HSE to monitor the research and to ensure fire and rescue services identify risks to firefighters.

“Throughout this process, many chief fire officers have been keen to help the FBU and UCLan with this research. And now is the time that their assistance will be most crucial.

“If fire and rescue services are willing to work with FBU health and safety representatives to implement these recommendations as swiftly as possible, we can make fire stations, training centres and all fire and rescue service workplaces safer – and fewer firefighters might suffer from cancer and other illnesses as a result.”

More progress needed on recruiting a more diverse workforce

An increase in the number of female firefighters has been welcomed by the National Fire Chiefs Council, but they say more progress needs to be made in this area

The latest figures published by the Home Office – covering the period from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 – focusses on a range of workforce areas across English fire and rescue services.

These statistics show the number of female firefighters now make up seven per cent of the workforce, compared to 6.4 per cent last year. For the second year running this is not due to a decrease in the number of male firefighters (due to retirement or finding other work). The statistics also show an increase in firefighters from ethnic minority backgrounds from 3.8 per cent to 4.4 per cent in the last five years, but it is only a 0.1 per cent increase during the last 12 months.

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher commented: “This is a step in the right direction; it is encouraging to see the number of female firefighters increasing. However, it is clear that more needs to be done to see this trend continue. NFCC would like to see more progress in regard of the number of both female firefighters and those from ethnic minorities; the numbers are still far from good enough.

“We have a dedicated programme concentrating on people. A key driver of this work is to ensure UK fire services are attracting the best talent and getting the message out there that being a firefighter is a job for all. We see services across the country carrying out innovative recruitment drives, which is helping to drive this. We want to make sure all sections of society know the benefits of being part of our fire family.

“We want to see a diverse Fire Service which reflects the communities it serves. While I would like to see this progress more quickly, we will continue to drive home this message. A freeze on recruitment for a number of years will have impacted this, but we are now seeing some progress in this area.”

The number of full-time firefighters remains almost the same at 32,171. However, since 2010 this is a decrease of 23 per cent. The statistics also show that firefighter injuries have fallen by seven per cent over the past 12 months. While firefighter injuries sustained during operational incidents dropped by 15 per cent.

Mr Wilsher added it was “abhorrent” that firefighters continue to be attacked while on duty, with 897 reported, but recognised this has fallen by seven per cent in the past 12 months. However, these statistics only cover attacks where firefighters are attending an emergency call. He said: “It is appalling that any emergency services worker faces attack while protecting people. Recently, the maximum jail sentence has been doubled to 24 months and I hope the courts use these sentencing powers accordingly.

“While it is encouraging to see the number has decreased, I will be very interested see how this compares next year, as some fire services were reporting an increase in the number of attacks during the pandemic lockdown, which falls outside this reporting cycle.”

Live and online: Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards Spring 2021

The fire calendar’s most prestigious event – the Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards – is going ahead as rescheduled on March 19th 2021 and for the first time will be streamed exclusively online

  • Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards Spring 2021 to be streamed exclusively online
  • One Great George Street will host the event on March 19
  • Thousands of viewers expected to watch the live ceremony

Nominees, sponsors and supporters for the Spring 2021 Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards will be able to watch the prestigious event live online at 12.30 on Friday March 19, with hosts to be announced shortly.  

Due to Covid hospitality restrictions we will not be able to hold our usual reception and luncheon but all of the excitement, fanfare and razzmatazz will return as usual with the bonus of wider accessibility for all fire and emergency workers.  

Our regular announcer Roger Tilling, of University Challenge fame, will be back to add excitement to the occasion, as our compares announce the winners from our home venue, the Institution of Civil Engineers at One Great George Street.

Although we will not be able to meet in person, the standard of entries for the Excellence in Fire & Emergency Awards promises to be higher than ever and this time everybody will be able to watch and applaud as the awards are broadcast to a higher number of people than ever before.

Details for logging onto the event will be released in the new year along with shortlisted nominees, who will no doubt amaze and inspire as our fire and emergency responders are celebrated for their endeavour and sacrifice in their heroic response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Everyone at FIRE magazine is excited to be presenting an online streaming event broadcast to our thousands of subscribers around the UK.

We also look forward more than ever to seeing and greeting our sponsors, supporters and nominees for the December 2021 awards, which will be back in their full glory on December 3rd 2021!

For more information on the online awards on March 19th 2021 contact: Andrew Lynch, Editor & Publisher, on 01273 434951 or, Beverley Rees, Commercial Manager, on 01273 434951 or

For nomination enquiries, email

Greater Manchester recognised as top apprenticeship employer

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service reports on being positioned in the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers in England

At number 58 the service, which is part of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, is proud to be part of the rankings that showcase the best of England’s large apprenticeship employers, with employers recognised for providing some of the most successful apprenticeship programmes over the previous 12 months.

A lot of time is invested into apprenticeships at GMFRS allowing for a learning and work experience like no other.

Oldham firefighter Devon Burnell-Cregg talks about her experience as an apprentice firefighter: “I never expected to find myself on an apprenticeship in firefighting. The apprenticeship pathway was new to the service when I applied. After the pass out parade I joined Oldham Community Fire Station and studied approximately 30 subjects, from dealing with fires and breathing apparatus to rope rescues and trauma care. I also completed a portfolio of evidence over the two and a half years in the apprenticeship.”

Apprenticeships also give the service an opportunity to truly grow talent and diversify its workforce.

Devon Burnell-Cregg and George Shuttleworth

Offerton apprentice firefighter George Shuttleworth has recently been nominated for a national award, from the National Apprenticeship Service, for apprentices who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic. As well as continuing his role as a firefighter with GMFRS, George supported colleagues at North West Ambulance Service in dealing with a number of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 through volunteering at the Nightingale hospital in Manchester, taking on a number of shifts to help do his bit towards supporting people through the pandemic.

Learning and Development Manager, Su Matthews, said: “We are so proud of our apprentices and what they bring to the organisation. Since lockdown began some of our apprentices have had their End Point Assessments delayed or paused and not one of them has given up. More than 50 successfully passed their End Point Assessments since April and have gone on to become fully qualified operational firefighters, team leaders, project managers, administrators, and HR professionals within our organisation.”

Kent FRS first in UK to receive formal recognition for incident debriefs

Kent Fire and Rescue Service reports on becoming the first UK fire service to receive professional recognition for its extensive incident debrief process

As part of our commitment to continuously learn and improve, the service has made significant and pioneering changes to its formal debrief process, making it more thorough and inclusive of all departments involved in an incident from the first 999 call – including both operational and non-operational personnel.

In light of the improvements, the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) has awarded Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) with formal continuing professional development recognition for future operational debriefs. This is the first time the IFE has recognised a UK fire service’s debrief process as an official CPD exercise.

The changes and implementation of a formal debrief process were introduced following an internal audit in 2017, which prompted KFRS to review its learning process following an incident, starting from the beginning and ascertaining what would trigger a formal debrief of an incident.

James Rutherford, Operational Assurance Manager, said: “Previously, a debrief would only be held if four or more fire engines attended an incident, but this would potentially exclude other serious incidents with less attendance but still warranted a full debrief.”

With this in mind, KFRS introduced the three-tier critical incident system, which categorises the seriousness of the incident on the outcome for the customer, rather than the attendance. Now, all critical incidents, regardless of the tier, are debriefed. Another unprecedented change was to include all departments involved in the incident, such as control, health and safety, media, building safety, post-incident care and of course, crews.

“It was the first time the initial 999 call had become part of a debrief process,” James added. “By involving everyone who played a part in an incident, it allows us to discuss, challenge and ultimately improve our tactics. A debrief is a place to learn and ensure we continue to deliver the best possible outcome to the customer.”

Vicki Ball, Head of Education at the IFE, said: “As the professional institution for those operating in the fire sector, the IFE is committed to supporting and recognising the continuing professional development available through relevant learning opportunities.

“This is the first time that operational debriefs have been recognised in this way and IFE has welcomed the opportunity to work with KFRS in this important area of work.”

For KFRS staff who attend debriefs that run for a minimum of two-and-a-half-hours, they receive an official IFE certificate to acknowledge the time committed has been recognised as CPD time, which is required to maintain IFE membership.

Since the first formal debrief took place in February 2018, the team has now delivered over 100 debriefs, with more than 1,375 attendees. And, as a result, in excess of 1,000 actions have been implemented and over 600 operational changes introduced.

To date, 14 other fire services have adopted the debrief processes designed by KFRS.


The Fire and Rescue Service “at its very best”

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher reports on NFCC prevention activity and commends fire and rescue services for being at the heart of the Covid response

At the start of 2020, I predicted the Fire and Rescue Service would be facing a difficult and challenging 12 months. However, I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how challenging, as we faced a worldwide pandemic head-on.

Through February, NFCC was involved in national discussions and by March we had structures in place – led by a Covid Gold structure.

To date, the Fire and Rescue Service has delivered more than 350,000 additional activities. This is the Fire and Rescue Service at its very best, using their considerable skills and expertise to be at the heart of the response.

I am incredibly proud of this response and it continues to evolve, including NFCC and chiefs ready to support mass testing and vaccination programmes, offering further public reassurance.

To continue to show value, the FRS needs resources and the ability to plan ahead; made more difficult by November’s Government Spending Review. Although the overall financial package could have been a lot worse, the one-year settlement impacts on being able to plan over a more sustained period, as does an expected reduction in council tax receipt.

The ‘pay pause’ is disappointing, as staff continue to deliver so much and deserve decent pay. There is some time to go before the usual pay rounds so we will be looking at the detail of the pay announcement, as I know the National Employers are.

Since 2010, FRS spending power has seen a real term cut of 28.55 per cent. We were clear in our submission to government: emergency response capability must be resilient enough to deal with large-scale emergencies and a range of smaller incidents, occurring simultaneously, blended with our prevention and protection services in line with evidenced-based local risk management plans.

Wildfires across the country were ably supported by NFCC’s National Resilience function, responding with a wide range of partners. A number of these incidents were started by disposable barbecues, showing the devastation that can be caused by people being irresponsible or thoughtless.

However, NFCC’s other work continued. Our new strategy was agreed, setting out our vision and mission to help us to ‘achieve more together’, underpinned by a wide range of quality work, strongly supported by NFCC’s Central Programme Office. I believe NFCC is an organisation which continues to grow; influencing at the highest level, respected and making huge strides forward.

I am pleased to have influenced financial investment into protection and NFCC work this year. As well as £16 million investment direct into FRSs, there was £6m to support the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations and £4m directly to NFCC’s Protection Hub, with a further £3m invested in the NFCC Central Programme Office.

The Protection Hub – or Protection Policy and Reform Unit (PPRU) – investment supports the work of the Protection Board I chair, the Building Risk Review and will develop guidance equivalent to National Operational Guidance for Protection. This has enabled us to start a Prevention programme; we now have programmes supporting all legs of an integrated risk management plan. As welcome as this investment was, we wait to see the final figure for investment in NFCC in 2021/22.

It may feel like the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has gone under the radar in the national media, but the evidence is alarming. It reinforces my view that there was no possible way London Fire Brigade could have known the scale of the issues before the night of the tragedy. NFCC continues its work on the Phase One recommendations, including new policy, guidance and a key role in supporting the government with legislative change.

The Building Safety Bill is going through the parliamentary process. It still requires a lot of work on the detail and there are areas we would like to see strengthened and I feel some areas could cause confusion, but it is a step in the right direction.

On a personal note, I was honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of the civilian services at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. It was a very different experience to when I laid a wreath two years ago, but still an incredibly poignant occasion.

I attended an Emergency Responder Senior Leader Board, led by HRH the Duke of Cambridge, with a focus on emergency responders receiving vital mental health support. While I believe we are more open and honest about this, there is still a way to go.

In November it was 39 years since I joined London Fire Brigade. It has been some journey since, but it still feels like yesterday when I was carrying someone on my shoulders for 100 yards to prove I was fit enough to join,  tempus fugit.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their dedication and professionalism during this unprecedented year, and to wish everyone – along with their friends and families – a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.