National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham reports on recent activity including reviewing the Manchester Arena Inquiry recommendations, responding to attacks on firefighters, giving evidence to the Select Committee on culture, equality and diversity, and addressing mental health challenges.
At the time of writing, we are expecting the Manchester Arena Inquiry to publish its Volume II report. My first thoughts will always be with the families and friends of those who lost their lives, along with those who suffered life-changing injuries on the terrible evening of May 22, 2017.
The report will consider the evidence given to the inquiry and the preparedness of each emergency service to respond to a marauding terrorist firearms attack.
It is essential all involved take and carefully consider the report’s recommendations and continue working together to address the failings on the night. We need to ensure all emergency service partners learn together from every incident we attend and meet risks as they emerge.
Following the 2018 publication of the Kerslake Review, NFCC committed to addressing its recommendations through national areas of work. We will review the findings of Volume II and put further workstreams in place to ensure new areas identified are acted upon.
I am expecting to give evidence to the government’s Home Affairs Select Committee this month. This follows a previous session which focused on HMICFRS’s State of the Fire and Rescue Service report. where the committee examined a range of areas related to fire, with a strong focus on culture, equality and diversity.
The committee will give me the opportunity to raise the outstanding Fire Service response during the summer heatwave, the challenges currently facing fire services and the excellent prevention, protection and response work taking place across the country.
“The workforce statistics are a timely reminder that we all need to ensure we are looking after staff and their wellbeing. The message ‘it is okay not to be okay’ needs to be reiterated time and time again”
The committee will focus again on equality and diversity. The recently published Home Office workforce statistics do show a slight increase in both the number of female firefighters (8.2 per cent from 7.5 per cent last year) and firefighters from an ethnic minority (five per cent from 4.7 per cent). While these increases are small and there is clearly a long way to go, it is a step in the right direction.
However, these statistics also show that attacks on firefighters are up by five per cent. I am working closely with fire services to see if this figure increases during this year’s bonfire night period.
It is completely unacceptable that these attacks are taking place. These are people’s mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, risking their lives every day to keep people safe. They should not be at risk from the very people they protect.
NFCC is fully supportive of stronger sentencing where restorative justice is not working. These mindless attacks put people at increased risk, while impacting on the mental and physical health of your firefighters.
The workforce statistics are a timely reminder that we all need to ensure we are looking after staff and their wellbeing. The message ‘it is okay not to be okay’ needs to be reiterated time and time again.
This is an area close to my heart and 12 months ago, I attended the Royal Foundation Emergency Services Mental Health Symposium. Attended by the then Duke of Cambridge, the event aimed to ensure all emergency responders receive the mental health support they need.
I am delighted to once again be supporting the symposium this November. NFCC will join a wide range of charities, emergency services and first responder organisations.
It will provide an opportunity to talk about progress made, along with the adoption of a standard approach to supporting the wider emergency responder workforce. It is only by working together and sharing our experiences that we can create a legacy of lasting change.
As ever, it is an incredibly busy time and the above is just a snapshot of some of the work underway. This does not include the day-to-day work taking place across all fire and rescue services. Services recently supported a fourth convoy to Ukraine, meaning an amazing 169 fire appliances have now been donated, along with thousands of items of kit and equipment.
NFCC has also launched several products which aim to support fire and rescue services and provide tangible toolkits for everyone to use. The Supervisory Leadership Development Programme and the Early Intervention Framework are just two and Fire Standards are also moving at pace.
I know you are all working hard to support the public on the current cost of living crisis, offering vital fire and general safety help and support as we move into the colder months. Many services are supporting NFCC’s national campaign, providing prevention and protection advice as we face uncertain times.
I would like to pass on my gratitude for all the work carried out so far in 2022, as we move into winter. It is only with your continued hard work, support and commitment, that the public hold you all in such high esteem and one of the country’s most respected public services.