‘End to End’ cycle challenge

A team of retired firefighters from Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service will take on the gruelling challenge of cycling over 1,000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats in a few months to raise money for The Fire Fighters Charity and Bowel Cancer UK

The team, who are aged between 52 and 67, consists of former Chief Fire Officer Dave Etheridge, Gary Mattingley, Bob Patterson, Clive Durbin, Shaun Waters and guest rider, Gary Stables. They will set off from Land’s End on May 16 and intend to arrive in John O’Groats on May 30.

While it will not be the first time some of the team have attempted the challenge, this one is going to be one of the most daunting.

Dave Etheridge, a veteran of a previous ‘End to End’ in 2016, said: “Having completed this ride from top to bottom, I am under no illusions as to how physically and mentally challenging this ride will be. We have chosen an incredibly hilly route and will be averaging 80 miles a day, taking in Cornwall and Devon, into Somerset then crossing the old Severn Bridge to the Welsh borders, on to Cumbria then cycling up the west coast of Scotland before cutting across to our finish. We have given ourselves the luxury of a rest day though, but even then we will still be out fundraising!”

Mattingly added: “Accommodation will be pretty basic. Apart from the nights when we stay at The Fire Fighters Charity centres at Harcombe House and Penrith, we will be sleeping on fire station floors for the duration of the ride. Although we will be assisted by an indispensible relay team of drivers with a support vehicle, we will still have to help with the cooking, cleaning and sleeping arrangements each day, in addition to dealing with any mechanical issues and preparing our bikes for the next day’s leg.”

Raising money for The Fire Fighters Charity was the inspiration for the ride. “The charity gives lifelong support to the fire community so it is only right that we continue our support in our retirement,” said Bob Patterson.

The team also wanted to support Bowel Cancer UK as they all have family or close friends who have been affected by this disease. As well as raising money, the team will be promoting the work of each charity, both before and during the journey.

A close friend of one of the team members, Angie, is hoping to be one of the support drivers despite being diagnosed with bowel cancer less than a year ago. She said: “Between 2015-17 there were 16,272 deaths from bowel cancer in the UK and whilst my cancer journey has been difficult, it has been made easier by the support of family and friends and in particular the Bowel Cancer UK forum. This gave me honest answers to my questions from people who had gone through similar experiences. With your help and donations more awareness of bowel cancer can be made.”

The team have already had to revise their fundraising target upwards, mainly thanks to the generous offers of sponsorship given to them by BRIKCOIN, GCI health, Bristol Uniforms Ltd, PBI Performance Products Inc and HR Solutions Hub.

“We officially launched the challenge at the end of January this year and have already exceeded the targets we set ourselves; the chosen charities really do resonate with people,” said Clive Durbin. “Our 2016 ride raised over £100,000 for The Fire Fighters Charity and while this ride was not intended to emulate that achievement, we have been amazed at the amount of support we have had so far for this challenge. We are really grateful to the companies who have offered sponsorship, their commitment has made us more determined to succeed in our aims.”

If you would like to support the team by donating to the challenge, you can do so at virginmoneygiving.com/Team/BrikcoinEndtoEndChallenge2020 and remember that by clicking the Gift Aid option an additional 25 per cent of your donation will go to the charities.



Chief Inspector calls for ‘significant reforms’

In the first report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor has highlighted a series of gaps in FRS performanceIn his first annual assessment of fire and rescue services in England, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Sir Thomas Winsor acknowledged the strong commitment from firefighters to protect the communities they serve. The sector’s greatest strength is in how it responds to emergencies, with demonstration of a number of life-saving initiatives and a strong health and safety culture. However, he says the fire and rescue sector needs significant reform in several areas.


Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services


In his report, Sir Thomas stated that the sector needs to improve how it complies with building fire safety regulations. He also stated that, despite some examples of outstanding culture in some services, other services needed to do more to address ‘toxic’ environments for staff and improve the diversity of the workforce.

Sir Thomas acknowledged the importance of strong trade union representation. However, he expressed concern that union influence sometimes prevents necessary reform in some areas.

He also highlighted there being ‘unjustifiable variation’ in the level of service the public receives across the country.

The main duties of modern fire and rescue services are prevention, protection and response, focused on those at highest risk from fire. In some cases, services undertake non-statutory activities, while having too few resources to fulfil their core remit.

Sir Thomas said: ‘This is our first time inspecting fire and rescue services in England. We have seen much of which services can and should be proud. We have seen their commitment to their profession and their communities, impressive life-saving prevention initiatives and their highly skilled emergency response. But we have also seen some worrying themes. In particular, some services are not doing enough to make sure buildings are safe for the public. We have also identified barriers the sector faces to becoming more effective and efficient. I am particularly concerned by a notable lack of diversity in the workforce, and, in some services, a toxic, bullying culture ’.

Fire Safety Regulations Shortfall

Sir Thomas reported: “Fire and rescue services provide education and support to businesses and, if necessary, use enforcement powers to make premises compliant with fire safety legislation. However, how services discharge this duty has commonly fallen below the standard we had expected.”

In his report, Sir Thomas cited the reasons for this. Primarily, while levels of operational staff have largely been maintained, there has been a drop in protection staff. There is also considerable variation across the sector as to what constitutes high-risk premises, and how often they should be inspected.

On the role of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in reform, Sir Thomas stated: ‘I of course recognise the importance of strong trade union representation. The role of unions is to protect and improve members’ rights. In the fire sector, the unions have a proud history of doing so. However, the influence of the FBU is considerable in some services. I believe it goes too far and is sometimes contrary to the public interest. This is not acceptable: the FBU should not unduly dictate how fire services are provided’.

On the working culture in fire and rescue services, Sir Thomas said: “We have come across some outstanding examples of culture in some services. The best cultures are inclusive and diverse, with committed staff working to common goals. But the culture in some services is toxic. We have come across cases of active bullying and harassment. Disturbingly, some people we spoke to seemed to find the poor treatment of staff by other colleagues amusing.”

Sir Thomas stated that the sector would benefit from a code of ethics. This will reinforce to everyone how they should be treated and how they should treat others, and staff at all levels will be empowered to challenge any behaviour contrary to the code.

He concluded: “Without reform, the sector will continue to be beset by barriers that prevent progress, perpetuating outdated ways of working and ineffective and inefficient practices. Ultimately, it is the service to the public that suffers.

“But there are opportunities to be seized. English fire and rescue services are seen around the world as being some of the best. If the reforms I have suggested in my assessment are carried out fully, they will secure major improvements for the sector and cement it as world-leading in the years to come.”

See pg 8 for NFCC response and from pg 11 for exclusive reports on the State of Fire report.



Understanding juvenile firesetting

Children and teenagers who set fires: Why they do it and how to help is the first book by Joanna Foster. FIRE Correspondent Catherine Levin reviews the ‘absorbing and accessible’ introduction to juvenile firesetting

Children and teenagers who set fires is an absorbing and accessible introduction to understanding juvenile firesetting. Part manual, part paean to her roots in the Welsh Valleys, Joanna Foster’s first book is a well-judged and acutely observed insight into an area that she has worked in for many years and clearly loves.

All fire and rescue services have some form of juvenile firesetting intervention programme; Joanna used to manage the London Fire Brigade team before striking out on her own a few years ago. It is not an area that gets a lot of attention – it is not mentioned once in the State of Fire and it is unlikely to be in any of the individual fire and rescue service inspection reports either. It is a specialist corner run by dedicated staff who should all read this book.

Joanna takes the reader through the foundations of firesetting. She is quick to bin ‘lazy, ill-informed stereotypes’ often found in news headlines like ‘Firebug who torched a church’ or ‘The making of a firestarter’. She avoids ‘arsonist’ and ‘pyromania’ too. For Joanna, the focus is on the individual and the behaviour. These are her start and end points; the humanity of her approach shines through the writing in this book.

And none more so than when she tells the story of Jenny-Lee. Having taken the reader through a wide range of tools and practice to furnish them with the confidence to work with juvenile firesetters, Joanna changes tack and provides a substantial case study which brings all the advice to life.

The story of Jenny-Lee is a reminder that so many young people do not live in a secure and safe home and that love is not a given in every household. Joanna shares her experience of working with Jenny-Lee who at 13-years-old has an interest in firesetting; she is immature for her age and the detail offered about her home life leaves the reader in no doubt that this is not a happy place. Despite it all, there is a happy ending as Joanna exemplifies the power of the intervention and the simple fact that caring costs nothing.

One cost Joanna does not cover is that to the mental wellbeing of the practitioner. Who looks after them? What does the Fire and Rescue Service do to ensure that their staff are able to manage their own welfare when their interventions are so emotionally draining? It is something that perhaps could have been explored further.

This book has a naturally limited audience but really it should have wider appeal. Children need adults who are kind, caring and above all able to help them navigate the complexities of life. Joanna’s book provides the tools to help practitioners be their guides.

Children and teenagers who set fires: Why they do it and how to help by Joanna E. Foster is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020.

Chiefs’ feedback on the State of Fire

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher responds to the Inspectorate’s report, broadly welcoming the recommendations

I am sure we have all seen the recently published State of Fire report, which I believe is one of the most important reports we have seen for a number of years.

This seminal report is the culmination of the first independent inspections carried out for well over a decade. Produced by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the report includes four recommendations which will provide both opportunities and challenges for the sector.

However, it is worth noting that while the recommendations are far-reaching and will undoubtedly bring benefits to the sector, there are a number of external stakeholders who influence fire and rescue services. Therefore, the consideration of HMICFRS’s recommendations is important but just one factor in our considerations alongside issues such as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, the upcoming spending review and new building safety regime. It is important to note the recommendations all have interdependencies and require a joined-up approach and are not considered in isolation.

I was pleased to see the report highlighted where the sector has strengths, including the reference to: ‘The determination and dedication to protect life and property are second to none’. I am in no doubt that all fire and rescue services take enormous pride in responding to the communities they serve, based on their needs and identified risk.

As you would expect, the report also highlights where the Inspectorate feels there is room for improvement. NFCC, as the professional voice of the sector, is exploring these and will work with other interested parties to address HMICFRS concerns. In fact, work in a number of areas is already underway within the NFCC programmes, but we cannot tackle the far-reaching recommendations in isolation.

Since the findings of the first tranche of inspections were published, all subsequent reports have consistently highlighted fire services reduced protection capacity. I believe this is a result of austerity measures and fire services having to make difficult decisions as to where they prioritise resources.

I would also like to see HMICFRS exercise caution with refence to building regulations. Overall responsibility for this sits with government and local authorities – not fire services. It is imperative the failure of the building regulations system is not placed solely at the door of the FRS.

One area which cannot go unmentioned – although it may make for uncomfortable reading – is culture. HMICFRS refer to a toxic culture in a small number of FRS. I would like to see a stronger evidence-based research to understand if there really is a culture of bullying in a small number of services, or whether it is national factors such as pay, pensions and change that influence this reporting.

Let me make it clear that NFCC is not complacent about this; our national People Programme is already working on this area and looking at whether fire services need to act to address this and where NFCC can assist via national initiatives. One personal concern is that many headlines I saw picked up on this part of the report and if people perceive this reflects every FRS then we may well have even more difficulty recruiting the diverse workforce we need.

Overall, I am pleased that the State of Fire report has been published and I acknowledge the recommendations within it. I look forward to seeing how the recommendations are received by others – including the Home Office, LGA and trade unions – and ascertaining where we can implement meaningful change in the future for the benefit of services most importantly, the public.

It is fair to say that 2020 is already proving to be a busy year. We have now had the government announcement regarding the new building safety regulator and extension of the Fire Safety Order. While I welcome this, much more detail is needed as to how it will work, along with roles and responsibilities, plus ensuring we do not have a two-tier fire safety regime.

In parallel to the publication of the HMICFRS report, NFCC formed part of an international deployment to Australia, which was formed of specialists to see what support could be offered. While there were no requests for further UK assistance, the Australian authorities were highly appreciative of our offer of assistance.

Since returning, a cross-governmental meeting has taken place to explore future bilateral arrangements. Often, the international support fire services offer to our overseas colleagues can be overlooked, despite arrangements having been in place for more than 25 years. Needless to say, the UK – via National Resilience and UKISAR – remains on standby to offer support.


The four recommendations in the State of Fire Report are:

  1. By June 2020, the Home Office, in consultation with the fire and rescue sector, should determine the role of (a) a fire and rescue service and (b) a firefighter.
  2. By June 2020, the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the National Fire Chiefs Council and trade unions should consider whether the current pay negotiation machinery needs fundamental reform. If so, a plan for reform should be established and an independent pay review body considered. This should also include consideration of the future of the ‘grey book’ and whether it should be replaced with local contracts.
  3. By August 2020, the Home Office should consider the case for legislating to give chief fire officers operational independence. In the meantime, it should issue clear guidance, possibly through an amendment to the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, on the demarcation between governance by the fire and rescue authority and operational decision-making by the chief fire officer.
  4. By June 2020, NFCC, with the Local Government Association, should produce a code of ethics for the fire sector. The code should be adopted by every fire and rescue service in England and considered as part of each employee’s progression and annual performance appraisal.


Prior to the State of Fire Report, two recommendations were made following the first two sets of inspections:

  1. The sector to achieve greater consistency across four areas, including identifying and determining risk, defining what constitutes high-risk premises for the purposes of protection, and how to consistently identify and measure response standards. NFCC has an established national Community Risk Programme which supports the recommendation to identify risk and vulnerability. This is one of NFCC’s strategic priorities.
  2. The Home Office to address the deficit in the fire sector’s national capacity and capability to support change.