In our last blog CFOA President Lee Howell reflected on his year in office and his association's objectives of becoming 'stronger professional, influential politically, stable financially', it brings to mind concerns voiced by many on the current position of the Fire and Rescue Service. How does it fair under economic constraints? Is the Fire Service really providing a better service than it did ten, 20, 30 years ago? Are these comparisons even possible?
Looking into the progression of personal protective equipment in the September issue of FIRE, Correspondent Julian Pinhey raises interesting anomalies in the field of firefighter safety - that of being overprotected. Is there an abundance of technological knowledge developing alongside declining operational nous? If so, it could lead to a lethal combination and an unprecedented problem.
Another challenge comes from experienced public sector reformer Lord Bichard who is well-versed in the restrictions of silo working (read his blog here). Whilst acknowledging the strengths of the Fire and Rescue Service, particularly in being able to teach other public sector organisations about outcomes and results, there is clearly more that can be done.
Part of the problem he identifies is a traditionally risk-averse Service, where innovative working practices are not necessarily welcomed as they would be elsewhere. Are the on-going complications presented by protracted investigations following the likes of the Atherstone on Stour tragedy holding the Service back? They certainly do little to instil confidence in a Service ravaged by the intense media spotlight.
None of this, however, gives any impression as to whether the Fire and Rescue Service has declined or risen in recent years. Certainly, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive in terms of reduction in deaths and injuries from fire in the home. However, the outfall of radically reducing operational or prevention activity in some areas is yet to be seen.
Anomalies abound in the modern Fire Service: kit is massively improved whilst insightful operational understanding is occasionally patchy, although simulation training is developing apace.
Above all, the recurring theme is a strong element of the unknown. It is a rare concoction of economic and resource pressures, alongside a social media and information revolution, supplemented by continual technological advancement.
As Lord Bichard says: "The very best always want to find out what the others are doing well and will always be comparing their performance with 'best in class'. They are - like the best people - always self-critical, always learning, always using the best intelligence available and always ensuring they spend their money well."
That is not, I suspect, where the Service is but it is where it should be heading.