It was a fantastic honour for me to be appointed Chief Fire Officer of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) in May this year, after serving as Deputy Chief Fire Officer since October 2012. Last year LFRS dealt with the largest moorland fire in its history, at Winter Hill near Bolton. During the incident we welcomed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in the first tranche of inspections.
We were the only fire and rescue service to be given an ‘outstanding’ in any category in the first tranche, for promoting the right values and culture, and received ‘good’ ratings in all other areas. That this was achieved during a major incident is testament to the attributes of our staff that were so rightly recognised by the HMICFRS.
I am honoured to lead a strongly performing, forward-thinking Service that is leading improvements and innovations in our sector and intend to build on what was a very good year. The Service is in a stable financial position having acted swiftly to offset reductions in funding in recent years and delivered efficiency savings of £18.5m between 2011 and 2018, without impacting on services to the public.
The challenge now is to keep moving towards being an outstanding Service amid funding uncertainty and inevitable budget pressures in the future. With additional financial pressures from changes to pensions and allowances, becoming more efficient will certainly be increasingly difficult to achieve.
I believe we are well positioned to build on our successes through continuous improvement and spreading innovation. We have a number of long-term plans that will deliver lasting benefits along with new items to progress, that all link back to our purpose of making Lancashire safer.
Maintaining the highest levels of operational competence and performance are the result of an unwavering commitment to preparing for and learning from incidents. Evaluation is taking on greater prominence in all our activity, as we seek to determine more effective ways of working across the Service. Fire and rescue services sharing this learning, both positives and negatives, within the sector is vital and the HMICFRS inspection programme will offer greater opportunities to do this.
Last summer’s moorland fire on Winter Hill was unprecedented in Lancashire in terms of scale and duration. The incident ground spanned around 18 square kilometres of moorland and the fire burned for six weeks. At its height, there were over 30 fire engines and 150 firefighters supported by multiple partners, specialist wildfire fighting teams and fire and rescue services from other areas of the country.
With the support of our partners, we successfully protected people, property and infrastructure from harm. However, there was much learning from the incident through a series of multi-agency debriefs. We have since established a specially trained wildfire burn team, capable of proactively burning areas of land to reduce the spread and duration of wildfires. This team has already proved invaluable in preventing the spread of a number of wildfires during unseasonably hot weather earlier in the year, and we have shared our experiences with colleagues from as far afield as Tasmania.
Finding new ways to work is the only way to keep up with the increasingly complex and demanding environment in which we operate. LFRS is already innovating to improve services in our communities, particularly for the most vulnerable people.
Our collaborations with other public services are making a real difference to people’s lives. We share the first fire and police air support unit and lead nationally on the use of drones. The air support unit has transformed the way we fight fires by providing incident commanders with aerial intelligence, including infrared capability to identify fires burning within a structure or underground. Our partnership with Lancashire Constabulary resulted in LFRS becoming the first fire and rescue service to locate a missing person using the drone. We are now routinely providing air support at missing-person searches and public events. In July, we hosted the national emergency services drone practitioner’s day, not only to share our experiences but to learn from colleagues across the country.
Activities such as gaining entry to properties when there is a medical emergency on behalf of North West Ambulance Service are business as usual now and we share sites with both Lancashire Constabulary and North West Ambulance Service across the county.
I believe there’s still more to be gained by working together and our collaboration programme remains ambitious. We participate in a collaboration board with Lancashire Constabulary and Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, and at present are looking at joint accreditation of our staff to undertake fire scene investigations, relocating police public-order training to our training centre and sharing an occupational health service. We will continue to seek opportunities to improve community safety in ways that best match our skills, equipment and experience.
LFRS has a long-standing commitment to ensuring that we offer the best equipment, training and development opportunities, something I am steadfast in honouring. This has resulted in the Service having some of the best firefighting equipment and training facilities in the country, and is an area of continual innovation.
We introduced the Stinger appliance in 2017 and an initial trial demonstrated that it enhanced firefighter safety and firefighting capability. In addition to serving as a regular fire engine, it can jet water a distance of 80 metres onto a fire from a maximum height of 16.5 metres. A hydraulically powered spike mounted on the articulated boom of the appliance can drive through slates, tiles and other building composites, spraying water jets onto the fire within a compartment. This minimises damage and associated costs to businesses and homes. The Stinger crew has evaluated the vehicle extensively and made further improvements to the design before we purchased a second vehicle. The intention is that it becomes part of an initial make-up rather than being ordered on a special.
A bespoke multi compartment firefighting training unit at our training centre in Euxton is an example of our innovative approach to research and development. The paraffin injected unit gives firefighters the opportunity to practice realistic scenarios like weight of attack, compartment cooling and the effects of wind on a fire situation in realistic and safe surroundings. It’s an unrivalled training environment that has impressed both firefighters and trainers with its capabilities.
The HMICFRS inspection found that we use technology to reduce costs and provide better services. This area of work is expanding, but we are also exploring how technology can make firefighters safer and streamline our work.
A debrief app developed to improve our assurance monitoring is providing greater learning and assurance opportunities after incidents, which firefighters can submit using mobile devices. Further benefits will follow later this year with the app collating information and intelligence from numerous sources, linking to national learning and identifying early trends and issues regarding policy, equipment and training. We’re also focusing on how technology can be used to improve business safety and enforcement services.
Our people are central to everything we strive to achieve. We have a highly skilled and motivated workforce that provides a wide range of services in Lancashire’s communities. Their expertise and professionalism make it possible for us to respond positively to the Government’s reform agenda and transform the way we work to meet changing risk and demand.
Creating more opportunities for staff engagement is one of my main priorities. We have a lot of staff who want to help drive the organisation forward, and not necessarily those on the promotion pathway. It’s essential they’re able to share their views, ideas and expertise, and are given the opportunity to get more involved.
We’ve recently launched a new intranet that incorporates discussion forums to facilitate this. Staff at all levels are encouraged to participate, share good practice and provide peer-to-peer support, reducing a top-down approach to decision-making. This complements an increasing range of consultation opportunities staff are able to contribute to, on everything from a review of duty rig to renovation plans for our training centre, alongside a programme of station visits by principal and area officers.
In terms of recruiting people, we are successfully broadening the appeal of a career in firefighting: 22% of recruits appointed in our last campaign were women, 11% were from black and minority ethnic groups and 17% identified as LGBT, adding greater diversity of backgrounds and ideas to the Service. A career with LFRS is now being viewed as an option for some people who may never have considered it before.
To continue building on this we’re looking at how well our policies support this philosophy with a view to providing options that will make LFRS attractive to a wider range of people, such as maternity/paternity and flexible working policies.
Almost half our firefighters are on-call firefighters, and I’m extremely proud to say that we have one of the best on-call services in the country, if not the best, with dedicated staff and high levels of availability. We’ve invested in an enhanced, fairer pay scheme and six on-call support officers, who are making an impact on recruitment and retention.
As communities change, particularly in rural areas, recruiting and retaining on-call staff remains a challenge that isn’t going to diminish. We are applying the same approach of exploring new ways of working in order to meet this challenge and slow down the problem.
We face further challenges without doubt. However, I believe we are evolving successfully and, with outstanding values at the heart of the Service, we will continue to make the best use of our resources and serve our communities well.
We aspire to be the best-trained, best-equipped, best-accommodated and most-professional fire and rescue service in the country.
For more information, go to www.lancsfirerescue.org.uk
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service
- Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service serves a population of 1.45million covering an area of just over 3,000 square kilometres.
- There are 39 fire stations across the county, home to 58 fire engines. Thirty fire stations are crewed in part or in entirety by on-call firefighters. Emergency calls to the Service are handled at North West Fire Control, a regional control centre in Warrington.
- We strive to achieve our purpose of making Lancashire safer by making sure everything we do is guided by strong principles of service, trust, respect, integrity, value and empowerment.
- The Service is governed by the Lancashire Combined Fire Authority, which is made up of elected members from the county’s 12 district and two unitary authorities.