Home Secretary unveils plans for fire reform and fire safety improvements
The government claims the most comprehensive plans for fire reform in decades have been set out in the fire reform white paper – Reforming our fire and rescue service – which they say will help strengthen the emergency services and seek to ensure people feel safer in their homes
The Home Secretary visited Old Kent Road Fire Station on May 18 alongside the Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire to announce the package which will build upon changes following the Grenfell Tower fire and findings from independent inspection reports.
The changes announced include the commencement of the Fire Safety Act 2021, which will make sure all blocks of flats are properly assessed for fire safety risks and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 that will help ensure people feel safe in their homes.
At the centre of the white paper are plans to deliver:
- Increased public safety: by improving the professionalism of the fire and rescue service through modern workforce practices and potentially establishing a College of Fire and Rescue
- Improved accountability: through the proposals to transfer fire governance to a single elected individual, overseeing delivery by operationally independent chief fire officers
- Better engagement with the public: through the ten-week consultation the government will listen to the views of the public and stakeholders, after which it will finalise its reform programme.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The government’s priority is keeping the public safe and the reforms we’ve set out today will strengthen and support our hard-working fire and rescue services.
“The white paper will be transformative in how firefighters are trained and will enable fire and rescue services to build on their strengths and leadership.
“The Grenfell tragedy must never happen again and we are continuing to drive forward progress on putting the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations into law.”
Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “I am delighted to introduce this comprehensive reform plan for our fire and rescue services and improvements to fire safety.
“The Grenfell Inquiry and independent inspections show reform is needed and we are tackling issues head on with this white paper.
“Fire professionals step up to protect and serve their communities and it is only right that they have the right tools to do their jobs effectively.”
There has been a legacy of reform to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and culture of fire and rescue services over recent years, such as increased focus on and funding for fire protection and helping services across England to respond to the lessons highlighted by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Building on this, the Home Secretary also announced the commencement of the Fire Safety Act, and the launch of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022. These legislative changes pave the way for meeting many of the remaining Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations and the government claims will deliver fire safety improvements in multi-occupied residential buildings such as ensuring that fire and rescue services have the information they need to plan their response to a fire in a high-rise building and imposing a minimum frequency for checks on all fire doors in mid and high-rise blocks of flats.
Additionally, the government has responded to the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans consultation and launched a new consultation on its alternative package of proposals to support the fire safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.
This includes a new proposal known as ‘Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing’, which would require designated ‘Responsible Persons’ – individuals responsible for fire safety in their building – of the highest risk buildings to assess the needs of their most vulnerable residents and consider what might reasonably be done to mitigate any risks to fire safety.
Fire and rescue services will also be provided with up-to-date information on where these residents live within the building – this will be used to inform their operational strategy and prioritise resources to further assist and effect the evacuation of these residents
Mark Hardingham, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “The UK Fire and Rescue Service has much to be proud of and is held in very high regard by the public and the partner organisations we work with.
“Every day, people across the UK draw confidence from the prevention, protection and 999 response services they receive from firefighters and staff.
“The white paper provides a further opportunity to continuously improve what fire and rescue services do, while building on the fantastic work we see every day.
“The NFCC has an important role to play in advising and delivering on future reform and improvements. We will now carefully consider the paper and respond to the consultation.”
Latest Fire Service convoy on its way to Ukraine
The latest convoy of UK Fire Service kit and equipment is on its way, providing vital life-saving equipment to firefighters in Ukraine
These monumental ‘mega’ convoys are the culmination of a number of weeks of incredible hard work and planning to ensure support is being given by the UK. This means that 60 fire vehicles – packed with hoses, helmets, thermal imaging cameras, generators, ladders, rescue equipment and protective equipment and other kit requested by Ukraine – have now been donated by UK fire and rescue services and the wider fire sector.
Organised by UK charity FIRE AID and International Development, the National Fire Chiefs Council, EASST and the wider fire industry, the convoys have also been supported by the Home Office and other government departments. As well as kit and equipment being donated by fire and rescue services, the convoy has been joined by a fully kitted out mechanical team – provided by the fire sector – to ensure vital support to ensure its safe passage to Poland.
More than 100 fire stations and 250 fire engines have been destroyed in Ukraine with a number of firefighters tragically losing their lives as they battle to protect their country.
The deployment of these donations is being supported by funding from the Home Office, Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office and the FIA Foundation. The wider fire sector – including the MSA Safety, Fire Sector Federation, the Fire and Rescue Suppliers [FIRESA] Council and the Fire Industry Association – are key partners in supporting and making the deployment.
Lord Greenhalgh, Fire Minister, said: “I am proud to see a further convoy of Fire Service kit on its way to Ukraine to provide vital support to the Ukrainian firefighters for the third time in less than two months. It is truly a great demonstration of hard work by civil servants, the UK’s fire and rescue services, the NFCC and FIRE AID.”
Fire Service response to fire reform white paper
The government’s white paper – Reforming our fire and rescue service – has met with a mixed response from fire sector stakeholders
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has welcomed the publication of the government’s white paper on fire reform (England). It was laid in parliament and then unveiled by Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh at a Whitehall event on May 18. It focuses on driving forward reform, strengthening governance and improving talent and professionalism.
The Minister also unveiled a package of fire safety improvements. This includes the Fire Safety Act 2021 (Commencement) (England) Regulations 2022, which implements eight recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report; and the launch of a new consultation on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. NFCC says it will now respond to the consultations after exploring the recommendations in detail with fire and rescue services.
NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham commented: “The UK Fire and Rescue Service has much to be proud of; our fantastic firefighters and people who work in fire services are well-regarded by the public and partners and instil confidence in those who encounter them. Alongside our day-to-day 999 response, community and fire safety regulation, the recent work on humanitarian aid convoys to Ukraine and the response to the pandemic is testament to this.”
According to NFCC, the white paper and subsequent consultation provides a further opportunity to continuously improve what fire and rescue services already do and to reach into new roles and responsibilities to respond to local risk and support partner services. The reforms can build on the fantastic work already carried out every day.
Mark Hardingham added: “I am pleased to see the long anticipated publication of the white paper together with the announcements on fire and building safety.
“The public have great confidence and trust in firefighters and their fire and rescue services. We all carry a collective responsibility to build on that reputation in how we shape the Fire and Rescue Service for the future – with the needs and expectations of the public at the forefront of our thinking.
“NFCC has a significant role to play in advising and delivering on reform and improvements. However, no one organisation alone holds the key – we want to work with the various fire service bodies to inform and implement further improvements.”
NFCC was also pleased to see today’s announcement regarding fire safety. Mark Hardingham added: “The Fire Safety Act in England and Wales, and the Regulations in England, are important steps forward in strengthening the Fire Safety Order and improving fire safety.
“We welcome the clarification that the Fire Safety Order applies to the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows; and entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts are parts of the premises.”
NFCC says it is clear that it has a key role to play on these improvements and reforms. “They will require national leadership and effective engagement with partners throughout,” Mark Hardingham said. “The reforms will also need to be underpinned with appropriate resources and funding to enable them to be fully realised. “
NFCC is working with National Employers (England) and the Local Government Association on a shared ambition for the Fire and Rescue Service, called Fit for the Future. This seeks to lead the way in Fire and Rescue Service improvement and reform and NFCC believes the white paper provides the opportunity to consider how these ambitions might be realised.
Fire Brigades Union Response to Fire Reform White Paper
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: “At the heart of this white paper is the threat of an attack on workers’ rights by undermining collective bargaining and a proposal to remove frontline firefighters’ voices. We cannot simply leave these vital matters up to the Westminster government and fire employers: frontline firefighters deserve a say. Collective bargaining is a well fought for mechanism by which frontline firefighters have a say on pay, terms and conditions. It is their basic democratic right.
“The narrative set out in the white paper on the Fire Service’s response to the pandemic is one firefighters will not recognise. Firefighters, through their union, negotiated a contract which kept them safe and allowed important work to protect the public to take place. Before this agreement, Covid positive firefighters were deployed to doorsteps – not something certain chief fire officers can be proud of.
“We’re proud of how the tripartite agreement was achieved through our long-standing arrangements and attempts to belittle it are false and insulting.
“The vast bulk of this white paper does not relate directly to Grenfell recommendations. It is unclear why the government is trying to paint this picture. Instead of listening to frontline firefighters, the government appears to have listened only to the anti-union voice of the politically motivated, including outgoing fire inspector Tom Winsor and fire bosses. We look forward to working with the government to address these proposals and making sure that frontline firefighters are heard.
“The union has never opposed clarifying the role of a firefighter and in some instances expanding that role, and we have tried to have these discussions with ministers for over a decade. It is ministers who have failed to answer these questions. It is imperative that any changes are properly negotiated and discussed with frontline firefighters – it is their say that should matter most.
“The proposals on governance suggests that we could see more police fire and crime commissioners. Throwing fire in with police means fire and rescue services do not receive enough scrutiny. Furthermore police and fire are very different functions and there is a vital need to maintain the neutrality of fire and rescue services in the public perception. If this breaks down it will make the work of fire and rescue services in communities far more difficult.”
Emergency services take part in major incident exercise simulating fire at chemical plant
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service hosted a multi-agency exercise at the riverside premises in North Shields testing how emergency services across the region would respond to a major incident – by role-playing a blaze at a chemical storage facilityTyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) firefighters were joined by blue light personnel from Northumbria Police and the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to tackle the fictional blaze.
Over the course of three hours, they were tested on their initial response to a report of a tanker that had caught fire and subsequently spread to a nearby storage tank bund.
Emergency services were joined by staff at North Tyneside Council, the Environment Agency, the UK Health Security Agency and the Port of Tyne.
The exercise was one of many held at various premises subject to Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) regulations. It was designed by exercise planners at TWFRS to test communication between the agencies but also the logistics of managing a major incident at the site.
Area Manager Richie Rickaby said: “This exercise was a real test of how agencies come together to respond to a major incident and there has been a huge amount of learning.
“We have fantastic relationships with those partner agencies who took part in the exercise but it is really important that we continue to test our emergency plans.
“I want to thank everyone who took part and specifically to those individuals who have worked tirelessly in recent months to facilitate the exercise.
“We carry out tests of this nature on a regular basis and we hope that they do reassure the public, and the sites in question, that we have stringent plans in place to keep our communities safe.”
Superintendent David Pickett, who took part in the exercise as Northumbria Police’s tactical commander, praised the fire service for organising the event. He said: “It was great to collaborate with key partners and share learning as part of this exercise.
“Testing our collective response to major incidents is vital to make sure we are prepared and ready to respond in the most efficient way possible, if, or when the time comes.
“I would like to take this opportunity to praise the hard work of the fire service for leading on this exercise and all those key agencies and organisations who were involved on the day – I hope this offers reassurance to the communities we serve.”
During the exercise TWFRS appliances were dispatched to the site, the fire boat was utilised to rescue dummies from the water and the fire drone was launched. This tested the emergency service response but injects were also provided to players to test how they would communicate safety messages to the local community.
TV presenter supports firefighters’ families with video of heart-warming children’s story
TV presenter Nick Knowles has lent his support to the families of UK firefighters by recording a video readthrough of The Wolf Was Not Sleeping, a heart-warming children’s story from The Fire Fighters Charity and children’s author Avril McDonald
Gifted free to members of the UK fire and rescue services community by The Fire Fighters Charity, the illustrated book – with a foreword provided by HRH Duke of Cambridge – has been created to help Fire and Rescue Service families to talk with their children, addressing any fears or anxieties young people may have about what firefighting family members may face in the course of their work.
Each book – which features the story of a wolf cub who finds it hard to sleep because his dad is a firefighter – is supplied with a reference sheet and link to a dedicated website page that contains advice and question prompts for families to use as they read the story with their children.
The Fire Fighters Charity Chief Executive Dr Jill Tolfrey said of Nick Knowles’ readthrough of The Wolf Was Not Sleeping: “We are enormously grateful to Nick for supporting the launch of this beautiful and important book.
“While children can often see the lifesaving work of firefighters as heroic – whether supporting someone on the phone from the control centre or at the scene of an accident or fire – it can be unsettling and worrying for those children whose family members are leaving home each day to face unknown dangers. This story, and the resources that accompany it, will help adults to share the pride they feel in their work with the young people in their lives, while also opening up conversations with them about the children’s worries and anxieties.”
The original idea of New Zealand Firefighter and father, Kris Kennett, The Fire Fighters Charity has 20,000 copies of The Wolf Was Not Sleeping – available in English and Welsh – free of charge to members of the UK’s fire services’ community.
For further details and to order a copy, visit: www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/wolf
Hydrogen fuel in conjunction with battery energy storage can provide zero emission fire engine
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has partnered with ULEMCo, the hydrogen fuel pioneer, to complete research showing that zero emission battery electric fire tenders will be up to required standards for emergency response
Zero emission battery electric fire tenders – in combination with hydrogen fuel cells and a minimum of 8kg of onboard hydrogen fuel storage – will meet current requirements for flexibility, emergency response and the water pumping requirements. This will be invaluable particularly in rural and semi-urban services, and for specialist HGVs with power take-offs, where batteries alone will not provide the overall energy needs of the application.
That is the conclusion of research just completed by ULEMCo, the hydrogen fuel pioneer, which partnered with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service in the study. The findings are important for the deployment of fully functional fire engines across all parts of the UK, but also other specialist vehicles requiring significant power take-off in their operations.
Analysis of the real-world energy requirements of fire appliances, including the requirement in EN1486 for four hours water pumping energy, confirmed that 8kg of hydrogen with a Toyota Gen2 fuel cell range extender would be sufficient to provide range extension of a 220kW battery designed base vehicle. The combination of stored energy in the batteries and hydrogen fuel that can be refuelled rapidly are needed to ensure the ‘always ready’ rapid response requirements of the operation.
A second conclusion from the work is that this onboard energy strategy incorporating hydrogen fuel could be met within the existing vehicle design, with no compromise to the equipment installation, and therefore would speed up the potential deployment of zero emission vehicles in these types of application.
As part of the project, the existing fire station locations in Oxfordshire were assessed, and options proposed for hydrogen refuelling locations that would not only allow the engines to refuel cost effectively, but also provide facility for the rest of the Oxfordshire public sector fleet. The key was finding locations where consolidated demand would be more than 200kg a day, so that hydrogen infrastructure investors would be able to supply hydrogen at a price/kg similar to existing fuels and ownership cost models.
Following the study, Oxfordshire Council is evaluating the logistics of establishing a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure with Oxfordshire Fire Service.
Amanda Lyne, Managing Director of ULEMCo, said: “The next steps with the project are to secure funding to build a prototype fire tender. We shall demonstrate the flexibility and technical capability of the hydrogen fuel cell range extension approach.”
“This research is really exciting,” added CFO Rob MacDougall, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director of Community Safety. “We are committed to reducing our emissions in line with the county’s ambitions and this provides a potential route to achieving this ahead of expectations, as well as forging a way for the whole sector.”
Raising funds in memory of firefighter husband
A Kent mum has dedicated the last five years to raising money for The Fire Fighters Charity in her husband’s memory, after he died suddenly while at work
Nikki Haxton-Jones’ firefighter husband, Danny, passed away in July 2017, despite his colleagues’ courageous attempts to save him with CPR. They later discovered he had unknowingly had pneumonia in both of his lungs at the time.
Danny was a Firefighter with London Fire Brigade and had taken part in fundraising events for the charity throughout his career. Now Nikki, who has since begun working in Control for Kent Fire and Rescue Service herself, says she wants to continue that legacy and support the charity that is there for her, her family and Danny’s former colleagues.
The Fire Fighters Charity offers health and wellbeing support to the whole of the UK fire services community, as well as spouses, partners and dependants. And that support lasts a lifetime.
She says: “Danny passed away in July 2017. He was on station and collapsed suddenly. Unfortunately, he was behind a locked door at the time, getting changed, so he wasn’t found straight away. It was just really unfortunate timing.”
Nikki was suddenly faced not only with a future without her husband, but with dealing with her own grief as well as the challenge of single-handedly caring for her two children, Olivia, 15, and Harry, 12.
She has since made it her mission to organise and take part in fundraisers with her children, her own colleagues and Danny’s former colleagues, including abseils, runs, bucket collections, sports matches and many more. She has donated £7,698 altogether in under five years, which is still rising.
Nikki adds: “Danny was a positive person so we really didn’t want it to be all negative at the time. The lads on station did a ladder climb literally two or three weeks after, then we did the Vitality 10K, a charity cricket match, the Great North Run – it went on from there. The kids, especially with the cricket, were able to play with friends during a lot of the events and, importantly, talk about their dad. It’s giving them that excuse to talk about him.”
To donate to Nikki’s latest fundraiser, visit: www.gofundme.com/f/control-over-the-edge-again.
Retired firefighter takes on epic kayak challenge for charity
A retired Bath firefighter has embarked on a 700-mile solo sea kayak adventure, all in aid of charities close to his heart
Colin Wood, who recently retired from Bath Blue Watch, left Plymouth on May 13 for an estimated two months of sea kayaking by day and camping by night, as he makes his way around the UK coast. Officially beginning at Lands’ End, Colin will attempt to kayak to John O’ Groats, around a 700-mile journey.
Before heading off on this incredible adventure, Colin talked about his challenge and how you can get involved and support him. Asked about the journey he is about to undertake, Colin detailed his route: “I’ll be starting in Devon and heading south to give me a week to get some more practice before I go around Lands’ End and become exposed to the prevailing south-westerly winds, swells, and waves.
“It will then be a trek up the coast, moving across from Devon to the Gower, cutting across Cardigan Bay as much as possible, gamble on the Isle of Man, then it’s full steam ahead to the top of Scotland. It’s going to be tough, and I am a bit past my best, but I’m going to give it my all.”
One thing’s for certain; Colin is very driven, he said: “After more than a few tough incidents, I learnt a lot about mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’ve known firefighters who have taken their own lives, and I wanted to try and use what I had learned to stop something like this from happening again.
“If this challenge can encourage even one person who is struggling to communicate and ask for help, it will have been worth the hardship.”
Colin will be raising funds for charities including firefighter welfare, whale and dolphin conservation, and Fire Aid, who are coordinating the UK’s government provision of firefighting and emergency response equipment to Ukraine. Colin put it best, saying: “There is a quote that says ‘evil people win when good people do nothing’ and I want to stand, or rather paddle, for Ukraine to do my small bit.
“There is also so much misery in the world at the moment, and I want to try and help cheer people up by logging my wildlife sightings. I hope people will also have a good chuckle at what a miserable time I’m having, or at my witty social media posts.”
How to Support
Colin’s https://bigbluekayak.com/colin-wood/ is regularly updated with blog posts, and a live tracking map where you can see his journey and overnight stops along the way.
When asked how people can support him, Colin said, “I’d like to say thank you to anyone who would like to support me, and no matter how small, any donations are greatly appreciated.
“I encourage anyone in the emergency services to start the conversation about mental health, keep talking and remember that you’re not alone.”
You can make a donation by visiting Colin’s People’s Fundraising page: https://www.peoplesfundraising.com/donation/bigbluekayak
All set to deliver with great leadership, passion and capability
National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham reflects on his 14 months as Chair and looks forward to delivering the expectations set out in the fire reform white paper
I have now been in the role as NFCC Chair for just over a year and it feels a suitable time to reflect on these past 14 months.
In that time, much has happened and there is lot to look back on, while looking to the future, which is particularly important, especially with the long-awaited government’s white paper on fire reform now published.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the evidence we have heard from both Grenfell Tower and the Manchester Arena inquiries have been difficult and often disturbing. We now await the next series of recommendations and findings, while we continuing to make progress with FRS against the 46 recommendations already in place. These inquiries are absolutely vital and I sincerely hope the findings do bring friends and families some comfort.
During this time, I have met with more than 40 fire and rescue services’ senior leadership teams, including those from devolved FRS. This has given me a fantastic insight into the passion, leadership and plans for continuously improving their service. It also gave me the opportunity to talk about the role of NFCC and how we can assist in helping them achieve many of their ambitions.
All fire and rescue services worked tirelessly through the pandemic and we were still very much in the throes of it when I took on the role of NFCC Chair. While we are not through it yet, it does feel like the start of the new normal as we draw together the final evaluation of the fantastic role FRS and NFCC played in supporting local communities and their own staff.
Equality and inclusion remains at the heart of a great Fire and Rescue Service and NFCC; it is also quite rightly one of the areas referenced in the white paper. We see excellent initiatives and leadership qualities across fire and rescue services, which is regularly highlighted by HMICFRS. initiatives and leadership and as highlighted through HMICFRS and was also discussed at the Home Affairs Select Committee.
It is important to note that progress is being made, but more is needed if we are to see the outcomes we all want and to ensure it is in the fabric of each and every service.
NFCC also has a great relationship with the National Employers (England) and the Local Government Association, and we are working on a shared ambition for the Fire and Rescue Service, called Fit for the Future. This seeks to lead the way in Fire and Rescue Service improvement and reform and NFCC believes the white paper provides us with the opportunity to consider how these ambitions might be realised.
One area that I see each and every day is the continued production of NFCC products and guidance. There are many to list, but I wanted to highlight some successes, such as new fire standards, our digital safe and well tool, the person-centred framework, safeguarding tools and the NFCC-led delivery of the Home Office FireKills campaign.
We have also seen the Protection Virtual Learning Environment with LABC, the Building Risk Review with more than 12,000 high rise over 18m buildings assessed.
While I look back at a very busy 12 months, I know we have achieved a lot and there is still so much to do, But I am confident with the leadership, passion and capability I see across NFCC and fire and rescue services across the UK we are in a good place to deliver. I look forward to the next 12 months.