The more things change, the more they stay the same

30 September 2016

The Fire and Rescue Service has changed inexorably since 2004, yet from some perspectives it hasn’t changed at all.

Since 2004, healthier lifestyles, building and housing regulations and the introduction of fire prevention as a statutory duty for all Fire and Rescue Services have ensured that the number of traditional incidents have plummeted. This has saved many lives and also reduced the burden on other public services.

The prevention agenda is wide ranging and includes fall assessments, partnerships which enable flu jabs for the elderly, wider signposting and spotting of child protection issues – to name but a few.

It improves the life chances of young people with a range of joint initiatives such as the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, fire cadets and the Princes Trust. All of these services enhance the fabric and longer term health of our communities and are well established across the sector. Satisfaction levels of the service are consistently high and demonstrate an ingrained appreciation and trust from the public.

The Service has enhanced public safety and embraced change. It responds to medical emergencies, flooding incidents, structural collapse, chemical incidents and other emergencies, some of which there is no funding or statutory responsibility.

The service however cannot be complacent. There are calls, quite rightly, to collaborate, to share back offices, to merge services, to reduce management costs and to tackle cultural issues, and it’s fair to say that progress on these issues is patchy.  For the service to retain its reputation, and standing in the eyes of the public, it must change.

In a service where 80% of its costs are staff, leaders in the service must push to reform working practices, done in a way that engages with and respects our workforce in the same way that the public does.

Firefighters should be, and in my experience are, prepared to have a broader role in our community: one of a multi-talented, flexible, life saver.

A role which can provide resilience for other emergency services through existing skills and puts the needs of a changing community at its heart.

There needs to be a wider recognition that these roles go hand-in-hand with a wider access to other budgets, with a duty across all government departments to collaborate and to allocate funds to these life changing initiatives.

To enable this to happen our Fire and Rescue Service must play its part and be reflective of our community and ensure that ways of working enable recruitment from all groups, the service must introduce working practices that offer flexibility, resilience and prioritise the needs of the public.

Locally agreed working practices and roles which save more lives and continue to professionalise the service should be embraced and encouraged through different funding streams.

In many ways for the fire and rescue service of the future to prosper the more things that change, the more it can stay the same in the eyes of the public.

Jason Thelwell, Chief Fire Officer, Bucks Fire and Rescue Service

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