As the government responds to the Fire Futures report, FIRE appeals for a shake-up of the risk-averse health and safety culture
A local service for local people is what we are now, as we have been reliably informed by Fire Minister Bob Neill following the government's response to the Service's Fire Futures report (see FIRE May issue, pg 5). From regional to local, it doesn't matter what you call it - from micro to macro, global to globule - the Fire and Rescue Service has now been empowered like never before. This is a good thing. What the government has done, as promised by the Fire Minister, is to go along with the vast majority of recommendations, shelving those that do not fit with government policy. Thus, the devil is in the detail that is missing. Headlines read that there will be no Community Protection Authority to encompass ambulance trusts, nor will there be an adaptation of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to reflect a US-style Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most tellingly for this reader, Operational Doctrine will be determined by the sector and not remain with government, 'although government will retain a central role in relation to national resilience and interoperability'. Health and Safety Gone Askew Our cover line (FIRE May issue) asks if there are 'no more heroes?' emanating from James Doyle's criticism of a health and safety culture gone askew (see FIRE May issue pg 18). CFO Mark Jones continues the critique in his piece, 'Common sense - common safety: a fire chief's view' (see FIRE May issue pg 22). It is noteworthy that CFO Roy Wilsher's account of the UK International Search and Rescue team's response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami precedes these investigations (see FIRE May issue pg 15), underlining the international aspect to the operational picture. Also relevant is the high esteem in which the cross-service team is held, nationally and internationally. If the Service has been empowered to lead on Operational Doctrine, is it not time that the rule book was ripped up and thrown away? The dreadful spectre of a risk-averse culture is blighting response across the board, giving rise to an escalating threat of gross stupidity in overreacting to the natural hazards presented by fire and disaster. It's a risky business, is it not? James Doyle hits the nail on the head when he highlights the gulf between the Police Service's 'Striking the balance' report and our own. It boils down to the right to choose, to entrusting skilled and well trained police officers to be able to make the right decision, as opposed to the restrictive, stifling guidance given to firefighters. Therein lies the difference, firefighters and police 'officers' are needlessly worlds apart. Training, development and most importantly, mentoring, should enable firefighters of today to become fire officers of tomorrow, and I am not talking about career progression. If Fire Futures offers one thing, surely it should be to pick up the baton and move beyond the shambolic, hackneyed, self-limiting interpretation of health and safety restrictions, and re-write the rule book. Otherwise, what's the point?