'Project Bernie' is a South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and partnership initiative that aims to tackle and stop deliberate grass and mountain fires over the Easter Holiday period, in high risk areas of South Wales.

Last year, the project was piloted in Tonypandy and it proved to be such a success that this year it has been adopted by the Community Safety Partnerships in Bridgend, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf and will be run in the areas of Maesteg, Bargoed, Merthyr, Tonypandy and Treorchy. 

Named 'Project Bernie' the initiative uses a cartoon sheep (Bernie) as the project logo and 'grass is green, fire is mean' as the project strapline.

CPS staff and partners will be on hand to give further information on the aims of the project, as well as details on the enforcement activities and the free diversionary activities being run for the young people of each of the for mentioned unitary authority areas, during the Easter holidays.

They will also be handing out free 'Project Bernie' promotional items including Bernie hoodies, beanie hats, key rings, and many more, in their areas from April 4, 2011. 

'Project Bernie' engagement project has been tailored for the communities that historically suffer from a high amount of deliberate grass and mountain fires by using new social marketing techniques in education, enforcement, operational tactics, and training along with partnership working. 

Martin Hendersen, Head of Risk Reduction for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, told FIRE: "Tackling the issues of deliberate grass fires is as much about prevention, education and enforcement as it is about new operational equipment and tactics.  We have been and will continue to work closely with the Forestry Commission Wales and our partner agencies to address the underlying issues of anti social behaviour that result in the devastation of the environment. We are very keen to involve the local people in stopping the blight of deliberate grass fires, it has a negative impact to the communities, to the taxpayer and to the environment, and it has to stop"

The 6 weeks of Project Bernie 2011 will focus on:

1. Diversionary activities for young people during the Easter holidaysBy working in conjunction with the young people who live and study in each of the for mentioned unitary authority areas, a programme of diversionary activities has been developed and will be run throughout the Easter Holidays. Activities will include becoming a Firefighter for a day, learning how to design and produce a piece of fire related graffiti art, making pottery, writing a song and recording a CD and learning 'bush craft' survival skills.  The activities will be used to educate and 'deter' young persons from deliberately setting grass fires. 

2. High visibility patrols in the areaSouth Wales Fire and Rescue Service will provide a high profile presence in areas where there is a high level of grass and mountain fires to 'deter' young persons from deliberately setting grass fires.

3. High visibility media messages (raising local community awareness)Enforcement and diversionary messages will be promoted through media tools such as billboards, street stencils, posters, activity booklets and flyers all using the 'Project Bernie' brand throughout.

4. Support of local communityGaining community support will be achieved by raising public awareness of the problem and effect of grass and mountain fires.  Local comprehensive schools will be used to promote and enforce the Bernie activities and messages.  The support of local traders will also be identified and used to restrict sale of lighters and matches to under 18's.  
5. Zero Tolerance  By working with South Wales Police and other partners, zero tolerance will be shown to those responsible for deliberating starting grass and mountain fires and CCTV will be used to identify perpetrators.

Key messages:• Convicted arsonists can face serious consequences
• Arson has a negative environmental, economical and human impact on local the local and wider reaching community
• Community Safety Partnerships is hosting and facilitating diversionary and engagement activities for young people in Bridgend, Caerphilly, Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf under the title project Bernie.

Chairman, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Cllr Anthony Ernest spoke to FIRE: "The Easter holiday period traditionally sees the number of deliberately set grass and mountain soar and results in South Wales' fire crews being stretched to breaking point. Annually, the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service makes special preparations for potential spate conditions and this year, the Service is hoping that once again the diversionary and enforcement activities they have in place via 'Project Bernie' will reduce the number of deliberately set grass fires and ease the burden on the hundreds of Firefighters that may have to be mobilised to the valleys over the coming weeks".

Andy Marles, Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue, said: "Deliberately set grass fires are extremely unpredictable and can spiral out of control within minutes.  Every time our Firefighters are called out to a deliberately set grass or mountain fire, not only does it cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds, negatively impacts on the environment, wildlife and carbon footprint and puts Firefighters at a needless risk but it also means that Firefighters could be diverted from attending a real emergency - someone trapped in a house fire or a crashed car, where there is a potential life risk".

You can find out more information on 'Bernie Project' by visiting www.bernie.uk.com and show your support by becoming a friend of Bernie on Facebook and adopt the pledge "I am helping and supporting Bernie in reducing deliberate grass fires across Wales". Follow Bernie on Twitter!


Posted: 11.14am, 05.04.11