NI Fire & Rescue Service
Reflections on my first year as Chief
Reflections on my first year as Chief
On 7 November 2016, I was honoured to take up the role as Chief Fire & Rescue Officer. It was a huge honour personally and professionally to be appointed to lead our Service. As Chief, it’s important to me that we continue to uphold the greatest traditions of the fire and rescue service but at the same time move the organisation forward into a new era of transformation as we adapt to the changing expectations of what a fire and rescue service delivers.
Highlights and Challenges
There have been many highlights, and indeed challenges, during my first year as Chief. Overall I believe the organisation has made good progress in addressing a number of key issues and making necessary changes to keep improving the service we deliver to the community. That is ultimately why we are all here and that commitment to service must be at the core of everything we do.
Without doubt, the key highlight of the year was meeting and engaging with you, our people.
From the outset I was keen to get out and about and listen to as much staff feedback as possible and to share my priorities as Chief. Through the ‘Meet the Chief’ sessions, the ‘Area Commander Inspections’ and through other employee engagement channels, I have listened to what matters most to you. The clear message was – ‘We need stability to move forward’.
I’m proud of the advancements we have made in creating that stability and I would like to thank our HR Directorate for their hard work over the past year in managing multiple recruitment and promotion processes. We started with the Corporate Management Team and made 2 substantive Assistant Chief Fire Officer appointments. We have filled Area Commander, Group Commander and Assistant Group Commander roles and have moved onto the next phase of substantive promotions for Station Commanders.
We initiated both Wholetime and Retained Firefighter recruitment campaigns throughout the year and I’m delighted that our first intake of 28 Wholetime Trainee Firefighters will start their training on 2 January with a second intake of 28 starting in early March. Retained Firefighter interviews, for 14 Stations, are due to be completed in the coming weeks.
At the same time as moving forward with substantive appointments and Firefighter recruitment we began the Area and District Review. This important piece of work on the future structure of the organisation will complement the work already happening through the Directorate restructuring in HQ and at the Learning & Development Centre. Engagement with staff has been central to progress to date and I look forward to receiving the first report from the review team in the New Year.
I acknowledge there is still a lot of work to do before we have our final structure and all posts are filled but we are making good solid progress in this area and I thank you all for your patience and continued hard work during this time. Thank you also for your participation, honest feedback and suggestions in all the staff engagements sessions we have held over the past year.
Partnerships & Collaboration
There is no doubt, expectations about what fire and rescue services can and should deliver has changed. We know from our participation in the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) national bodies and through negotiations between the Employers Side and the Representative Body that the Firefighter role is being challenged to adapt and expand. One such example, and highlight of the past year, was the success of the Emergency Medical Co-Responding pilot at Lurgan Fire Station. From 19 September 2016 to 17 September 2017, Firefighters responded to 394 emergency medical co-responding calls and worked closely with colleagues from NI Ambulance Service and undoubtedly contributed to saving many lives in that time.
I am extremely proud of how Lurgan Station personnel embraced this new area of emergency response proving that Firefighters can make a significant contribution to both public safety and public health in Northern Ireland. I was delighted to recognise Lurgan Fire Station as Winners of the ‘Outstanding Performance – Team’ at our recent Employee Awards.
With 71 partnership agreements signed between NIFRS and other organisations in the public and voluntary sectors to help identify and keep vulnerable people safe from fire in their homes, we are reaching out to other services and building synergies that can be easily incorporated into our current prevention and protection activities.
NIFRS does not operate in a vacuum. We live in challenging financial times. The relationships we have with the NIFRS Board, the Department of Health and local Representative Bodies are crucial. We will continue to work together to ensure that our organisation operates as effectively and efficiently as possible but that at the heart of everything we do is both public and Firefighter safety.
Building for the Future
Two major capital projects made good progress over the last year. The new £7.8m Logistics Support Centre at Boucher Crescent is on schedule for completion in Spring 2018. This exciting development will bring together our key operational support staff and services into one building and deliver real business improvement across the organisation.
In August 2017 we received planning permission from Mid Ulster District Council for Phase 1 of our new Learning and Development Centre at Desertcreat. Phase 1 will support our critical training infrastructure and includes a tactical firefighting facility of 6 floors, a welfare and classroom building and a new access road. Work is expected to commence on site in January 2018 and is scheduled to take a year to complete.
It’s a credit to the hard work of our Capital Projects Team that these projects have progressed to the stage they are at and they both represent significant capital investment in the future of our Service.
We are also investing in and enhancing our IT infrastructure and after months of behind the scenes work by our IT Team and Business Services Organisation (BSO), we are currently rolling out our new wide area network which will enable us to upgrade and improve our IT systems. These crucial IT developments will make such a positive difference to our daily work and we will all benefit from quicker access and better connectivity.
Protecting Our Community
It has been another busy year for our Regional Control Centre and our Fire Crews. From gorse fires to flooding, from road traffic collisions to house fires, from bonfires to large animal rescues we have been busy across Northern Ireland responding to 999 calls and protecting our community.
In June this year, all of us in NIFRS, and indeed the wider public, were deeply impacted by the tragic fire that claimed the lives of 71 people in London’s Grenfell Tower. Following that tragic incident our Prevention & Protection Directorate has been working closely with the Housing Executive and other partner agencies to provide fire safety advice and reassurance to residents living in high rise buildings in Northern Ireland.
As I’ve been out and about across the organisation over this past year, I’ve been struck time and time again by the passion and pride of our people; passion and pride are precursors to increased performance and professionalism. It’s fantastic, and very reassuring, to know that we have such dedicated, and loyal people, across our operational and support staff, who genuinely care about the service we provide to our community.
I thank you all and I look forward to the year ahead knowing that together we will face the challenges head on and continue to make our Service one we are all proud to be a part of.
Chief Fire & Rescue Officer