Reducing risks and preventing incidents is a critical part of the service we deliver. However, being well prepared to respond to emergencies when they occur is at the centre of what we do. Our “Responding to Emergencies” Strategy describes our plans to transform the way we deliver our core business.
Responding to emergencies
Over the past ten years, the number of incidents we attend has halved. This is good, not only for the public and businesses, but also for us because we can work with other agencies to help keep people safe and well in new ways. Last year we rolled out to all our whole-time and day-crewed fire stations a scheme to send a fire engine or an officer to the most serious medical emergencies, including heart attacks, when our resources are closer than the nearest available ambulance. This year we will introduce the scheme to our on-call fire stations.
Over the past year we have also worked with the ambulance service to attend ‘concern for welfare’ calls where an ambulance has gone to a person’s home and the crew cannot get in, but they think that the person needs medical attention. We can help in these cases because we have the right equipment to enter a property quickly with minimum damage.
In 2011 we completed our biggest review of emergency cover, which looked at where we should respond from considering the balance between risk, demand and isolation. As a result a programme to build stations was created to make sure we have good quality buildings from which to provide our services. We built our first new fire station at Ash-cum-Ridley, which opened in 2012. Last year we opened another station in Rochester and also completed the redevelopment of the station at Watling Street in Chatham. A project is currently underway to build a new fire station in Ramsgate.
We published our last Safety and Wellbeing Plan last year after a period of consultation. One of the proposals was that we would ensure that 50 fire engines are regularly available, since we know that we can run the Service comfortably with this number. At the moment we have no plans to reduce the number of fire engines or close any fire stations. We first need to evaluate how successful the new areas of work are for the public and the impact they have on our resources. We will be doing this in the coming years.
We are using our fleet more flexibly than ever before and we know this is helping to improve the service we provide to the public, and to increase emergency cover in some areas of the county. Last year we introduced a trial to move one full-time fire engine from multi-pump stations, such as Dartford, Thames-side, Maidstone and Canterbury, to other areas to meet the needs on the day. This year we will evaluate the full benefits of the trial.
In order to offer the best possible service to the public we need to make sure we are able to adapt to changing demands in a short period of time. We are constantly looking at how our duty systems can help us achieve the required level of flexibility. In 2014 we started to introduce a flexible rostering pattern of work in some of our stations. The new system was well-received and, since then, we have introduced it to all our day-crewed stations, the fire station at the Channel Tunnel, and our 999 team. Last year we started to introduce this system in our whole-time shift fire stations and will continue with the roll-out this year.
Last year we trialled a scheme to put some of our fire engines in on-call fire stations on the run when there are only three firefighters available. We would normally crew our fire engines with a minimum of four firefighters. However, improvements in technology, training and protective equipment mean that a crew of three can do a lot in the early stages of an incident to provide potentially life-saving help to the public. The evaluation of the trial showed that it was a success and therefore we will be rolling it out to all our fire stations over the next few years.
The move of our retained firefighters to a contractually-based on-call arrangement six years ago brought a number of issues with it. We continue to work to resolve these issues and make the on-call system deliver the best possible outcome for the public and our employees. We want to learn how we can make the on-call system more attractive to potential recruits so that more people join the system and stay with us for longer.
Investing in new equipment
We understand the importance of ensuring our firefighters have the right equipment to do the job. Over the years we have invested in new equipment to allow firefighters to be safer and more effective when dealing with a fire, when rescuing people from road traffic collisions or when assisting with any other emergency. We will continue to invest to ensure our firefighters have the right equipment to do the job.
Handling emergency calls
Our 999 control room is located at Kent Police headquarters. Our command system runs on the same software used by Kent Police and we also share a number of other systems including telephony and radio telecommunications. Working together with Kent Police has brought a number of operational benefits not least because we can share information efficiently and learn from each other. This year we will continue to look at ways in which we can work with the Police to simplify processes and achieve further efficiencies.
Preparing for major incidents
We work closely with other fire and rescue services and other agencies to assure national resilience and capability. This involves planning and exercising for large-scale incidents. Our technical rescue team is specially trained to deal with these types of incidents. Some members of the team also form part of the UK’s International Search and Rescue Team and are able to respond quickly to large-scale emergencies, such as natural disasters like earthquakes or flooding, anywhere in the world.
As a member of the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF), we work with other agencies to prepare for major risks in the area. Multi-agency plans are developed and maintained to help all partners to be better prepared and to reduce the effects of major emergencies should any of the risks materialise. We take part in all multi-agency KRF exercises and also carry out our own regular exercises, often with other agencies.