In this article, Mark Hewitt, who was appointed Interim Chief Fire Officer in September 2019, describes the challenges, opportunities and solutions his Service are dealing with, along with his expectations and aspirations in leading Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in this new decade.
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service sits on the far South West peninsula of England. With just one bordering fire and rescue service and such a large coastal area, the geography of the Duchy creates some unique challenges for the delivery of emergency services to both its resident population and the influx of visitors who make Cornwall their destination of choice to enjoy the rich heritage, landscape and beaches. It is estimated that Cornwall attracts over 4.5 million visitors each year whilst the resident population is just over 0.5 million.
As a County Fire and Rescue Service, CFRS is a service of Cornwall Council. The Service is part of the Cornwall Council Neighbourhoods Directorate.
CFRS is one year into its three-year Integrated Risk Management Plan 2019–2022 and working towards its vision of ‘Working together to make Cornwall Safer, through five key priorities of Prevent, Protect, Respond, People and Perform.
As Chief Fire Officer I am both incredibly proud and fortunate to be leading CFRS into 2020 and beyond. We have entered a period in which the Service needs to continue looking forward and moving ahead but also a time where we consolidate and build on the excellent service we have.
As with all public-sector organisations, our resourcing presents significant challenges in meeting the expectations of our communities and central government through the Home Office.
Organisational response to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services inspection
The HMICFRS inspection process has led to structural and organisational changes that have stretched beyond the FRS structure. Prior to the inspection Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service was part of a combined Resilient Cornwall Service that incorporated FRS and Communities; this included wider community safety services, localism and emergency management. Cornwall Council recognised the challenges this unique shared service created within a fire and rescue focused inspection regime and in response, in September 2019, an interim structure was adopted that operates as a more traditional fire and rescue focused structure whilst maintaining links with the previous combined functions in order to continue delivering the benefits of shared intelligence and delivery of services.
The Services prevention strategy is based on national and local risk. In addition to established activity such as Living Safe and Well visits and educational programmes, the Service benefits from some inspirational and innovative community engagement driven by staff from across the Service.
CFRS is a key partner in the delivery of the Cornwall Casualty Reduction Road Safety Strategy, and the Service was integral to the development of the 2019 Casualty Reduction Strategy, providing intelligence and data to support the production and ongoing delivery of the strategy.
Cornwall has experienced higher than average coastal drownings and water-related incidents and therefore there is a strong focus on preventing water-related deaths, which is achieved through a great local partnership called CoastSafe.
As part of a review of fire-protection activities, CFRS engaged the Local Government Association (LGA) and National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Protection Thematic Peer Review Team to assess the quality and provision of Protection activity across the Service.
The review team visited across the three days in July and interviewed over 60 people and spent over 45 hours reviewing the Service. The outcomes have assisted in identifying further areas for improvement in support of the Service’s continuous improvement.
The Protection team continues to drive innovation and is currently preparing a ‘New Frontiers’ business case to devolve legislative powers to require new-build housing within Cornwall to be fitted with sprinklers.
Operational response is delivered through 31 community fire stations across Cornwall staffed by a range of crewing models to effectively manage and respond to emergencies and local risks.
Uniquely, Newquay Community Fire Station is seasonally crewed, moving from a day-crewed system throughout the majority of the year to a 24-hour crewed station during the months of July, August and September to reflect the change in risk profile during the busiest part of the summer season.
CFRS is heavily reliant on its highly valued on-call firefighters. The Service recognises the pressures and constraints the current retained duty system places on staff and is seeking to introduce more flexible ways of working through contracts that better reflect societal changes and the increasing demands on people’s lives.
Collaboration within Cornwall and the region
Local relationships are key to how our emergency services and communities best operate within Cornwall and it would be fair to say that collaboration has become a ‘business as usual’ activity. It remains clear that many opportunities for collaborative working have yet to be fully identified, developed and implemented, and CFRS continues to be an active member of the South West Emergency Services Collaboration Forum.
At an operational day-to-day level, CFRS has a number of formal agreements, which include the use of police drones, medical co-responding (three on-call stations on the Lizard have been co-responding for over 25 years), attending incidents with the ambulance service where a person has collapsed behind closed doors, shared working with control rooms, attendance at police operational briefings and joint policing and fire-data analysis.
Tri-Service Station and Tri-Service Safety Officers
One of Cornwall’s most successful and celebrated blue-light collaboration programmes has been that of Cornwall’s Tri-Service Safety Officer (TSSO) programme.
The first TSSO role was borne out of the opportunity identified and created in the plans for a new-build on-call fire station within the community of Hayle in West Cornwall. The Service’s success in securing government grant funding enabled a joint programme with police and ambulance services to establish what is believed to be the first purpose-built Emergency Services Station in the UK. Beyond the benefits of sharing facilities, it was recognised that a Tri-Service Officer role could be the key to engaging with issues that affect rural communities.
The TSSO initiative was led by CFRS with police and ambulance service support. The role operates as a partnership between Cornwall Council (as the employer), Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service, Devon and Cornwall Police and South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust.
The pilot commenced in 2015 with the appointment of the first Tri Service Safety Officer, and in 2019 this was increased with ten TSSOs serving more rural areas of Cornwall.
The key part of the TSSO role is that of prevention and community engagement. With an ability to work within communities to carry out preventative safety activities and intervention with community issues such as anti-social behaviour, these officers have had a very positive impact on the communities they serve, creating a presence for all three services that would be difficult if not almost impossible to achieve for any one organisation in isolation. I am consistently heartened by the feedback I receive from both the public and emergency-service colleagues. Reports of a prompt response, sensible resolutions and a community pride in their local officers provide valuable qualitative data to reinforce the positive quantitive data that has continued to demonstrate the value of this role.
In addition to their preventative role, the TSSOs are trained as on-call Firefighters and Ambulance Community Responders as well as being able to undertake many of the duties of a Police Community Support Officer.
The TSSOs continue to generate interest from across the blue-light sector. We have hosted many groups of people from visiting Services to understand the role. Consistently, we receive feedback from visitors who say that the role is so much more than expected and not confined to the combination of three emergency services.
Critical Control Centre
CFRS Critical Control Centre handles 999 calls 24 hours, 365 days a year, manages out-of-hours calls for some critical council departments and monitors CCTV for a number of town and parish councils, all providing an efficient approach to working together to make Cornwall safer.
The Service has a partnership with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service within our control-room functions. In the event of spate conditions both of our Services have the ability to take calls and mobilise for each other. Having an arrangement with a Service so far away has proven useful because the South West is unlikely to be experiencing the same levels of demand at the same time; this has been demonstrated during periods of snow and flooding.
The use of CCTV has also extended to monitoring extreme weather conditions and helping the Service to deploy resources and understand risk during these situations.
CFRS currently have formal tender underway to modernise and replace all station end equipment across all 31 fire stations. This will see a significant improvement to the resilience of our mobilising infrastructure, bringing it up-to-date with the latest station alerting technologies, making our emergency response more efficient and effective.
Phoenix Services is the cost-recovery arm of Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, providing discretionary services that support Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s core values and priorities.
Phoenix has developed a range of training products and is now well established in the marketplace. The team deliver a range of programme community engagement schemes, driver training, safety and education training and MCA-accredited marine fire-fighting training courses.
Phoenix also deliver The Prince’s Trust 12-week programme aimed at young people to develop personal, social and employment skills with the aim of improving employment chances.
The Primary Authority Scheme is a natural progression for CFRS as part of Cornwall Council. The Service continues to develop Primary Authority schemes to provide continuity of advice to businesses with specialist officers funded through the schemes.
Capital Replacement Programme
The implications of a short-term capital replacement programme had hindered the planning and delivery of future capital assets. Cornwall Council agreed to a longer-term investment plan resulting in the adoption of an extensive programme of replacement through a capital budget of £27 million to be delivered over the next 15 years.
The replacement of front-line firefighting appliances is a significant priority as many of the appliances in Cornwall are in excess of 20 years old. Fifteen new appliances based on a 12-tonne chassis are currently being introduced to the fleet through a rolling programme.
CFRS has adopted the National Collaborative PPE Framework to procure Firefighting attire and the engagement of staff ‘Asset Champions’ ensures firefighters and other end users are fully engaged and involved in the future design and replacement of kit and appliances.
Working Differently Programme
Being a Service of Cornwall Council and being a part of the Working Differently Programme means we are able to be involved with ensuring we can jointly identify solutions to not only deliver our individual Services more efficiently but together we can ensure we effectively support the communities of Cornwall.
An example of working differently is the Council’s Digital Improvement Programme for Cornwall, which allows our Service to benefit from the economies of scale and professional IT skills and expertise that being a part of the Council provides.
Challenges and look forward
Over the next three years the Service will see a significant turnover of managers through retirement. Taking a planned and proactive approach to address the potential loss of skills and experience will assist us in dealing with the challenge of delivering successful succession planning in alignment with predicted future budgets.
As Chief Fire Officer and Leader of Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service, a critical aspect of my role is to support and empower staff to deliver the most effective and efficient service it can to the people who live, work and visit Cornwall. I am delighted to say that I regularly witness the efforts of our staff in going beyond what is merely expected of them to ensure that Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service constantly learns as an organisation and aspires to improve in all that we do.
In a period of constant change, challenge and scrutiny, I am determined that as a Service we invest the same effort to looking after our staff that we do for the communities we serve. The value the Service places on the views of its communities and its staff truly personifies the Cornish motto of ‘One and All’.
For more information, go to www.cornwall.gov.uk/community-and-living/cornwall-fire-and-rescue-service-homepage/