I have to admit, the cover line on our latest edition is a little obvious (see picture): of course fire crews excel at flood rescues. It’s what they do. It’s blindingly obvious.
Well not that obvious, actually. Just check out the national media coverage of all those ‘emergency responders’, inaccurately depicted as an homogenous mass of emergency workers when in fact the vast majority were fire and rescue personnel. They were water rescue teams; highly trained, skilled operatives working round the clock to save lives. They just didn’t look like firefighters because they were wearing different kit, so the media stuck to talking about the emergency services and their default reference, the Army. Ah, one yearns for the good old days of journalistic rigour… (read Catherine Levin’s insights on the impact of flood response images).
Speaking of the good old days, Fire finds itself back in the Home Office. Not so much the halcyon days of yore though as I struggle to remember Fire gaining anything except bottom of the league billing back in the day. At time of writing, the inevitable has just been confirmed – that Fire, wherever possible, will be run by police and crime commissioners – so that will all change. Or will it? Whilst there is undoubted benefit and cost savings to sharing support functions and particular areas of collaboration, I am yet to be convinced.
I am, like everyone else, concerned about getting an adequate piece of the pie. I am also sceptical about lauding fire and rescue services as grand purveyors of prevention (the prevention meme has some worth check out the Health/Fire partnership - we just need to convince others to formulate a funding mechanism) on the one hand, and labelled as profligate on the other – it is gross reductionism demeaning Fire with soundbites.
It is not worthwhile getting stuck in a meme that all fire and rescue services are wastrels and police colleagues are befuddled by prevention. The leading fire and rescue services provide exceptional examples of shared services, collaborative working and elite levels of operational response, in spite of reductions.
It has always been a case of raising others to that high bar, not lumping them all in the same ‘inadequate’ bracket. It had to change though. The good old days of large, unwieldy fire authorities needed curbing and there is some potential, somewhere down the line, for Fire to pack a punch; if we work smartly. One such move could be to rework the Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor’s Unit to undertake a scrutiny function and take over from peer reviews, lest a costly Inspectorate be resurrected.
Another would be to convince the Home Office that Fire is not what you think it is – it is so much more. Just witness the magnificent flood rescues on the Internet; throw in the terror threat and Fire is needed more than ever.
Back to days of yore. Growing up in dear old Hebden Bridge, the river rarely ever broke its banks and when it did there was barely a trickle. What accompanied it though was the flood siren, identical to the nuclear warning howl shrouding our precocious, doom-laden youth. And if the river had burst its banks, we’d have had to paddle our own canoe. You can keep the good old days.
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