Security Profile: Peter Dartford, President of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association and Chief Fire Officer of Staffordshire
We met with Peter Dartford, President of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) and Chief Fire Officer of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), and discovered how innovation, creativity and partnership working are driving a step-change in the FRS.
Austerity measures continue to bite with the majority of services already having lost 10% of their frontline strength. Couple this with the raised threat from international terrorism and an increasing number of severe weather events and it means that chief fire officers are leading their organisations through the most challenging of times.
Peter explained that the news is not all bad, “Operating with reduced resources is helping to drive innovation and creativity in all three aspects of the service: prevention, protection and response. It means we must explore new areas – we simply can’t afford to carry on doing things in the same way.”
The FRS is not only innovating in the use of equipment and technology, it is also looking carefully at how it can develop the service it offers. Clearly prevention is now at the heart of what it does, “We are keen to engage with all communities, identify the most vulnerable and carry out targeted interventions.” This approach has been working with a 50% reduction in fire incidents in the last ten years – with fire casualties at their lowest ever recorded levels.
Partnership working is key
“Over recent years, we have been working with partners to help influence people to change lifestyle habits, this not only reduces demand for us, but improves health outcomes and in turn the pressure on health and other services. We are aiming to improve the lot of the whole of the public sector and the outcomes for people.”
Research shows that 3,500 older people die in accidents at home each year, but only 2% of these are fire related, with 43% being attributable to slips, trips and falls. “We proposed that as part of home safety checks, as well as making sure homes have smoke detectors, we also look at how to reduce other risks.” This potentially reduces pressure on hospitals and the ambulance service. “Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, is now working with us, to see how we can reduce demand, particularly around this prevention agenda – he is impressed with how we have driven down demand.”
Central role for CFOA
The Chief Fire Officers’ Association takes a leading role in driving these innovations. “The Association picks up and promotes best practice, encouraging the service to become innovative and creative without compromising the services we provide or, of paramount importance, the safety of our fire fighters and the communities we serve.”
CFOA aims to work on behalf of and for the benefit of all FRS. “We have developed central hubs, for fire specific work for every fire rescue service. We can save a fortune by developing a process and framework once, rather than everyone doing it themselves.” In particular, it makes a great deal of sense to procure once, rather than each individual service doing this. “CFOA can link with the Fire Suppliers Association to discuss future requirements – this means the professional association and the trade association can liaise on what kit is needed, on behalf of and for the benefit of all services, without there being a conflict of interests.”
This central role also includes being a leading partner in the current project to update the operational guidance. Together with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the London Fire Brigade, who have contributed £6m funding over the last 3 years, CFOA has been pivotal in this major undertaking. It will be the future source for all training development and collaborative procurement.
Responding to the raised international threat level
The CFOA works with other blue light organisations on understanding and preparing for the latest terrorist threat as it evolves. This requires constant preparation, “A Mumbai style attack is very much on our radar, and we are working very closely with colleagues to deal with this and a range of other possibilities.”
Working with business
The FRS is developing its role with business, some areas now have Business Support Officers who can assist with business continuity planning, risk assessment and immediate help following an incident.
For many years FRS had a regulatory role, but lately aims to work more collaboratively with business to find solutions and a balance between safety and efficiency, “It’s not just about complying but doing the right thing. The support we can provide each other is all about reducing risk and engaging to ensure a consistent understanding.”
The future and technology
The FRS is continually looking at new technology and a broader range of response options, “Previously our capability consisted mainly of a big, red fire engine. Our analysis of fires in Staffordshire showed that 85% were small fires outdoors, so we now have targeted response vehicles with a smaller crew to deal with these minor incident types, resulting in increased availability of the traditional response option for more significant or life threatening emergencies.“
Peter believes we are on the cusp of a technological step change in the way we deal with emergencies. One of the more exciting developments is the ability to tackle a fire from the outside, possibly using cold cut technologies, radio waves or even robots, “The idea is to avoid sending fire fighters into hazardous and volatile areas and the risks associated with that and make the environment inside safer much quicker.”
Peter Dartford the person
Peter joined Hertfordshire FRS in 1981 as a retained fire fighter, taking on the role full-time the following year. “My 34 years have gone in the blink of an eye. It has been a fantastic career and I have enjoyed very minute.”
“What drives me now is the much broader role for the FRS, with the clear potential for us to make an even greater and better impact on the health, safety and well being of local communities, using our capability and standing in the community in a way that exceeds the traditional expectations of our organisation.”