FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch (31/07/2012) questions how the Fire and Rescue Service can hope to protect the public and safeguard its firefighters in an age of austerity...
FIRE gives much of the July/August issue over to firefighter safety in the wake of the Atherstone on Stour trial verdict, setting out the foundations of incident command before scrutinising the realities of operational training under the glare of the modern media spotlight.
Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith's presentation at the Institution of Fire Engineers international conference in early July was an eye-opener, offering a powerful insight into the tragic events of that day. The Olympic Games does not so much shrink in comparison (see next issue for our special feature), but for all of London Fire Brigade's long-term and highly influential input, it is just a part of their colossal risk catalogue.
The scale of the challenge of protecting the public is unprecedented, not just from terrorists and natural disaster, but also from spending cuts that could bring a lesser Service to its knees. It may well do in the unlikely event of a 27 per cent cut for the Association of Metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities, a move described in their report, Potential Impact of the 2013−15 Finance Settlement, as 'catastrophic'. In the more likely event of a cut of around 15 per cent, one of the chiefs told me that would still result in the equivalent of culling a brigade the size of the West Midlands.
The report is seeking a fair financial settlement across the board and seeks to shatter the myth that Metropolitan areas receive bigger increases in government funding than elsewhere (from 2005/06−2010/11 they received less than the national average increase). Certainly their argument for distributing the capital grant through the revenue grant mechanism to give greater flexibility for authorities to manage their resources, makes perfect sense. As does the call for a flat percentage cut to all fire services in the next financial settlement, whether 13.5 or 15 per cent. Make no mistake, everybody suffers, but everybody suffers equally. Anything higher and the suffering becomes intolerable.
The government has taken their concerns seriously, holding what amounts to an emergency Select Committee meeting in mid-July to hear their case. One can only hope that reason prevails, that all fire and rescue services are put on an even footing and have a fighting chance of protecting the public and ensuring safety of firefighters in the process.
Spirit of Fire
When it comes to spending wisely, I can do no better than commend The Fire Fighters Charity's Spirit of Fire Awards at the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel on October 19th. For the past couple of years I have had the privilege of being on the judging panel and witnessed the courage and dedication of supporters, combined with the incredibly high standard of care and commitment from volunteers and health workers. The feedback from beneficiaries going through the re-enablement programme at the centres is consistently outstanding and worthy of further attention.
Don't just take my word for it, visit: www.firefighterscharity.org.uk