"Welcoming the increasing focus on fire and fire reform". NFCC Chair updates on his first two months in the role

The first two months of being NFCC Chair has – as you would expect – been an exceptionally busy and interesting time.

I welcome the increasing focus on the fire service and fire reform across the UK. Most notably, attention is being drawn towards the publication of the Home Office White Paper consultation - expected in late June or early July - and the second part of the review into the Police and Crime Commissioner model.

 Update from Council

Many of you will be aware the NFCC Council - which is made up of all UK Chief Fire Officers - has an important and vital role to play. It is here CFOs meet and set the direction of NFCC from their own perspectives and, importantly, for their colleagues within every FRS in the UK.

Council met towards the end of May and having reflected on the meeting – my first as NFCC Chair - I wanted to give an overview on the wide-range of topics discussed. There was certainly no shortage of business.

An important milestone was Council agreeing the NFCC Plan for 2021-24. This is an integral piece of work to help drive and deliver the NFCC Strategy ‘Achieving More Together’.

This essential piece of work clearly outlines how we will deliver the changes we want to see. It not only reflects what could impact on the UKFRS in the short-term, but sets out our longer-term strategic commitments, while ensuring we have the flexibility to meet emerging threats.  As NFCC is a UK-wide organisation, all our work is tailored to make sure this remains the case.

Council joined me in thanking the outgoing vice chairs Phil Loach and Huw Jakeway as we welcomed Justin Johnston and Phil Garrigan to the roles. I am delighted to be working with the two new vice chairs and we are meeting regularly to discuss areas which will impact on the sector and our approach to leading change.

I welcome the increasing focus on the fire service and fire reform across the UK.

NFCC Chair, Mark Hardingham

Neil Odin, NFCC’s Prevention Committee Chair and CFO for Hampshire & Isle of Wight led a discussion about the potential for NFCC to develop guidance to support FRS in adopting models of Clinical Governance. This received broad agreement and the initial scoping work will now continue.

We received an update from the Fire Standards Board which is a hugely important piece of work as more are introduced.

The publication of the first four Fire Standards is a significant step forward for the sector. These standards and those that follow will help FRS in how they deliver services for the benefit of the public, and will form the basis of future inspection judgements by the HMICFRS. The Core Code of Ethics Fire Standard has also been launched; a HMICFRS recommendation in the State of Fire Report. There are a number of others in the first phase of development, which I will update on as they are released.

Rachel Atkinson from Home Office updated Council on Fire Reform. NFCC will be responding to the White Paper and I will update once we have more information about it. As I said earlier. we are expecting it to be published ahead of the parliamentary summer recess, and a consultation period will follow for us to consider and provide our response.

Of course, this was another virtual Council meeting and, I’m optimistic that the continued success of the vaccination programme - which FRS has played an important role - will see us return to physical Council meetings in time for the next one in September.

 The importance of mental health and our well-being

Council was preceded by Mental Health Awareness Week, a week that is more important than ever with the consequences of the pandemic and the workplace, family and social mental health issues facing far too many people.

Mental Health problems are all too common in the workplace and is the leading cause of sickness absence. The UK stats are mind-boggling with 70 million workdays lost costing employers £2.4bn per year.

NFCC is involved in many aspects of Mental Health work. Just one example is a regular meeting I attend with the Royal Foundation. Alongside other emergency services we discuss and agree plans for further mental health support for emergency responders. More on the foundation can be found here Home Page - Royal Foundation

There remains much to be proud of across fire services. The continued superb response to the pandemic with more than 300,000 vaccinations carried out; 1000s of hours committed every month and 3600 in just this last week; and support still being provided to community testing and surge responses to deal with variants in local areas.

 Our work and initiatives

I also wanted to give an overview of work that NFCC is currently involved with. Alongside the excellent support FRSs have provided during the pandemic, there are a lot of other workstreams and initiatives underway, which I would like to highlight.

  • The production of Coaching and Mentoring Guidance
  • NFCC’s Protection team partnership with Local Authority Building Control to increase learning for FRS staff
  • English Government is about to publish its consultation on BB100 sprinklers in schools – our initial look at the consultation is extremely disappointing. We will be issuing a response making it clear our strongly held views about the benefits of sprinklers in schools. We will be encouraging FRS to use the NFCC response to inform their own.
  • A further consultation on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans in high rise buildings has now been issued and we will be providing a NFCC response.
  • And finally, we continue to lead many NFCC national campaigns, supported and delivered by FRS. Water Safety week and Sprinkler week, with Home Safety Week running now. NFCC is playing an increasingly important role in the national Fire Kills campaign

On a more sombre note, we have now reached the 4th anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, an incident that still dominates many aspects of our work and that of the wider fire sector. At the on-going inquiry, the recent evidence about decisions on the refurbishment being focussed more on the aesthetics of the building than the fire safety of those within it strikes to the heart of some of the problems and perceptions of fire safety.

At the same time, we continue to closely watch the evidence and findings from the Manchester Arena inquiry which will undoubtedly raise further areas of learning for NFCC, FRS and emergency service partners.

On another very sad note, I was personally saddened to hear about the passing of CFO Paul Fuller. Paul was not only a long-standing colleague, but a friend. As well as his outstanding charity work, and dogged campaigning on fire safety matters, he was an incredibly knowledgeable and popular CFO and will be sadly missed. The landscape of the fire and rescue service will be a sadder place without him, but one on which he has left a remarkable impression.

In closing, I would like to thank colleagues for their support and I look forward to updating you regularly on the work of NFCC and how we are working to support fire and rescue services, while working with parliamentarians, government departments and other partners to drive change for the better.

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