Chief Fire Officers continue to give their views on Lord Bichard's call for the FRS to "up its game" [click here to read his thoughts] - here are a selection of their opinions from the latest issue of FIRE Magazine:
CFOA president Vij Randeniya
While I agree wholeheartedly that the savings required of the Fire Service will require a radically new approach, I disagree that we simply endlessly restructure. While in the past restructures may have been the norm, nearly all services are currently looking to radically reshape the way they are organised, from front line to back office – be it West Yorkshire FRS merging half its stations so that they are better placed to serve their communities, or the smaller, more specialised vehicles being trialled by many brigades to deal with incidents.
Lord Bichard’s comments about fire services’ use of ICT show a lack of current knowledge about the way fire services are working. Several fire service IT departments have won awards for the for the innovative software solutions they have designed, which help firefighters and control staff to deal with incidents more quickly and allow more accurate planning, recording and targeting of home safety checks and other prevention work.
I am pleased that Lord Bichard recognises the radical shift that fire brigades have made toward becoming prevention focused services in recent years. This is something of which we are rightly proud, having succeeded in driving down incidents, deaths and injuries by over 40 per cent in ten years. Other public services, such as ambulance and police, are looking to learn lessons from our approach, and we are working closely with them to develop it.
The current financial pressures – including some of the deepest budget cuts of any part of the public sector – are driving precisely the sort of innovation and reform of which Lord Bichard speaks, and fire services up and down the country are tackling the challenge head on. There is not an endless supply of efficiencies to make that will help us tackle deep cuts, but at a time when some areas of the public sector are struggling to find efficiencies despite being protected from cuts, I believe fire services are doing extraordinarily well.
Shropshire FRS chief Paul Raymond
Although his Lordship points out that the Fire and Rescue Service leads the way in many areas I am worried that other parts of his article could be seen to be overly critical of the Fire and Rescue Service and feel it is necessary to counter some of the major points made. More importantly, it implies that all fire services have a great deal of fat to trim in order to meet drastic budget cuts, when this is clearly not the case.
Firstly Lord Bichard makes the mistake of so many other commentators by grouping a very diverse set of organisations under the ‘Fire and Rescue Service’ banner. Would he categorise the wide range of British supermarkets in the same way? Yes, they all sell food and other products, but in a similar way to British fire and rescue services they deliver this similar product in different ways, with differing organisational values and at a range of costs. So it would be helpful if commentators such as Lord Bichard did not comment on the whole of the Fire Service as if it was a single, identical entity. We are ‘joined up’ and interoperable but the British Fire and Rescue Service is not a homogeneous entity.
Lord Bichard states that he believes few fire and rescue services, indeed few public services, have ‘worked imaginatively across departments’. Whilst I accept there is always more that we can do, many fire services are at the forefront of driving innovative partnerships and collaborations with other public and private sector organisations. As I write, all of my colleagues and our elected members are involved in a ‘Futures’ project looking inside and outside our service to identify issues we will have to deal with between now and 2020. It is this use of the wisdom of crowds, positive culture and teamwork that is driving our organisation forward in these difficult times.
South Yorkshire FRS chief James Courtney
Lord Bichard appears to have prioritised the promotion of his consultancy over the facts about the FRS. If he genuinely believes ‘we have all failed to work effectively across organisational boundaries’ I would suggest he visits South Yorkshire, where I can show him exactly how we have done so.
Like most UK FRSs, the number of emergency calls we have received, and incidents we have mobilised to, has plummeted in recent years. Whilst these reductions have involved a large amount of hard work by our staff, they could not have been possible without our partners from other organisations.
Whether it be innovations such as our ‘Hotspots’ cross-referral initiative with our health, housing and social care colleagues to prevent house fires, or our work with the police and councils to remove potential arson targets, we and other FRSs have been public sector leaders in working together. Our ground-breaking Lifewise Centre, a unique partnership with South Yorkshire Police, is just one of 201 formal partnerships we currently have with other organisations which are helping us to make South Yorkshire safer.