Fire service asks for public help after hottest summer on record

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is asking the public to help reduce needless grass, garden and bin fires this summer after last year’s record heat led to a huge spike in incidents.

The service is today, Monday 22 July, launching its ‘Do Your Bit’ campaign to tie in with the six-week holidays – which figures show is prime time for these types of fire.

As part of the campaign fire officers are asking people to be extra careful with barbeques, hold off on garden bonfires and take specific action to reduce the risk of arson in their areas.

This includes only taking wheelie bins out on the morning of collection, rather than leaving them out overnight, ensuring streets and parks are clear of loose rubbish and reporting suspicious behaviour to South Yorkshire Police on 101.

It is hoped that, combined with a range of prevention work that the service has already done around this issue, the campaign will result in a reduction in incidents during the summer period and, ultimately, less strain on resources.

“This campaign ties together a lot of work that is being done across South Yorkshire – including arson prevention patrols by our fire crews and a programme of ‘light nights’ school visits by our community safety team,” said Station Manager Matt Gillatt, who works within the joint police and fire community safety department.

“Last summer was great for so many reasons but it was also unusually busy for us as a service. We were called to 1,560 deliberate secondary fires (grass, rubbish, bins, scrubland) in July and August alone – which is well over double the 692 we attended the year before.

“This is just one incident type, too. On top of the secondary fires are things like vehicle and accidental garden fires – and of course we’ve still got things like road traffic collisions, house fires and water rescues to deal with.

“Whilst we can’t control the weather we’re keen to try and crack down on some of these incidents – as clearly small fires all have the potential to spread and put people at risk. Fortunately, our insight suggests that many of them could have been prevented.

“This is why we’re asking the public for their help – by taking our advice and being a bit more vigilant around fire during hot weather we think people can make a real difference.”

As well as the arson prevention patrols and school visits, the service will be releasing a series of videos during the summer showing the impact that these incidents have on staff.

Firefighters will also be working with farmers to ensure they have adequate arson prevention measures in place, and that they know what to do should a fire hit.

Key advice to the public is:

  • Don’t leave wheelie bins out overnight and keep gardens and streets free of rubbish
  • Don’t have bonfires during warm weather and be careful with disposable barbeques – not just when using them but when binning them too
  • Report arson to the police and speak to your kids about the dangers of fire-setting

Fire service funded youth project

Young people are learning life and social skills thanks to a fire service funded project.

In partnership with JADE Youth and Community Centre, we are helping hundreds of young people with activities that enable social, educational, economic and employment opportunities for their life progression.

The JADE Youth and Community Centre, based in Dinnington, Rotherham, has been partly funded by the South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority’s funding scheme, Stronger Safer Communities Reserve.

The two year funded project, has been running for over a year and has seen great success with children from as young as 7 years old benefiting from the activities, projects and educational talks delivered.

JADE offers a safe and fun environment for young people to socialise and attend sessions covering fire safety, road traffic collisions and road safety, anti-social behaviour, drugs and alcohol.

Head of the Joint Community Safety Department Steve Helps said; “JADE has made a real impact on the lives of the young people who attend, offering a place to socialise and also to learn life values with the help of the amazing youth workers there who offer support and advice.”

A spokesperson from JADE said; “We really appreciate the support received from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (SYFR) , the funding provided has enabled us to deliver much needed activities for children, young people and the wider community, creating a wide range of positive outcomes that support young people and address key community safety issues.

“Through our SYFR funded project, young people have taken part in educational activities that cover a diverse range of issues such as fire, road and water safety, drug and alcohol use and crime and offending, whilst being in a safe environment where they can socialise, access support and have fun.”

Fire service could curb attendance at business false alarms to free up time for firefighters

The fire service could stop attending automatic fire alarms in commercial buildings like shops and office blocks unless it’s a confirmed blaze, in a bid to free up time for firefighters.

Currently South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue automatically sends fire engines to premises like shops and office blocks the moment a fire alarm goes off and the signal is passed, by a receiving centre, onto 999 control operators.

But 97% of the 3,457 automatic alarms the service attended in business premises in the last three years turned out to be false alarms. Fire crews wasted more than 1,000 hours investigating the cause of those false alarms- time which could have been better spent training, working in the community or being available to attend other, genuine incidents.

The change would bring South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue in line with other services around the country, plus the position of the National Fire Chiefs Council on automatic fire alarms in commercial buildings. It would not apply to sleeping risk premises like hotels, hospitals or high rise flats though- with fire engines still being automatically turned out to automatic alarms at those premises.

Area Manager Andy Strelczenie, said: “False alarms make up a massive proportion of the incidents firefighters are mobilised too. Whilst we will always attend incidents when our services are definitely required, our frequent attendance at false alarms disrupts training and increases road risk to firefighters rushing on blue lights to incidents which later turn out to be false alarms.”

As well as responding to 999 calls, the fire service is responsible for enforcing fire safety laws.

Top safety tips for businesses include:

Keep fire escapes clear– make sure extra stock is stored away from fire escapes, ensuring staff and customers can get out safely in the event of a fire
Check alarm systems– regular checks and maintenance help to eliminate automatic false alarms and ensure the alarm is working if required
Complete a fire risk assessment– not only will it help to reduce the risk of suffering a fire in the first place, it will help make sure you comply with fire safety laws
Sprinklers– consider installing sprinklers, but make sure you leave a good distance between your stock and sprinkler heads

For more information visit www.syfire.gov.uk/business-advice

A paper outlining options for changing the service’s attendance at commercial automatic fire alarms will be discussed at the service’s governing Fire Authority on Monday (22 July).

Fire crews put 22mm hose to the test

What difference does 3mm make? Quite a bit when it comes to fire hose it seems.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is testing out a new type of hose reel, which could make it easier for firefighters to tackle blazes quickly.

The 22mm hose has been fitted as standard on a new, smaller fire engine which entered into service this month.

At 3mm wider than a standard 19mm hose, the new reel can double the amount of water that’s put onto a fire- delivering about 100 litres per minute more than the standard equipment.

The extra capacity makes the larger hose heavier, but a special coating on the outside makes it easier to carry- particularly around narrow corners.

The next step is for firefighters to test the hose for themselves, which will involve putting it through its paces at the service’s training and development centre.

The feedback from firefighters will then help the service to decide whether to adopt the new kit across the county.

Fire research says targeted safety visits better than scatter gun approach

Fire services should carry out repeat safety visits in a smaller number of high risk homes to reduce fires, researchers say.

Sheffield academics argue this targeted approach will be more effective than one off visits to a larger number of properties– and are now testing out their findings for real.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue worked with the University of Sheffield on the research which matched incident statistics with historic information about home safety visits and safety campaigns. They then put the data they’d gathered into sophisticated computer software which simulated how the fire service’s education work spreads amongst close-knit groups of connected households.

The five year ‘Premonition’ project, which was kick started with funding from the Fire Authority’s Safer Stronger Communities Reserve, is now in the process of testing the approach in the real world. The fire service is delivering repeat visits in parts of the county, with researchers then following up the visits a few months letter to find out how much of the advice which has been given has been remembered and shared with neighbours.

The fire service has already responded to the research though. It recently changed its home safety checks service- which includes the fitting smoke alarms for free where needed– so that it is only offered to those most at risk of fire, based on factors like age and disability.

Dr Dermot Breslin, University of Sheffield, said: “The Premonition project demonstrates the power of using big data to better understand changing household risk behaviour. These tools enable services to predict future patterns of change, and optimise fire prevention strategies with a view to protecting the most vulnerable in our community.”

Area Manager Steve Helps, said: “This research forms part of a longer term ambition to become even more targeted in the way we deliver fire safety education in people’s homes. We’ve made huge strides over the last decade and more in preventing house fires, but we know that to reduce those numbers even more we’re going to have to be even more sophisticated in our approach.”

The findings, led by Dr Dermot Breslin, have been published in the International Journal of Emergency Services. The paper in full is available here.

Smaller fire engine arrives on South Yorkshire’s roads

A new, smaller fire engine will soon be responding to 999 calls for the very first time.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has spent more than a year working with contractors at Angloco Limited to develop a lighter, more agile fire appliance to attend incidents across the county. The appliance has been designed to keep the same functionality as a traditional fire engine, but to be easier to manoeuvre than the current larger appliances.

The smaller appliance will be able to respond to a wide range of incidents from grass and rubbish fires to large scale building fires and road traffic collisions. The engine will be staffed in the same way as the other fire engines already used by the service.

The appliance will carry all of the necessary equipment required to attend an incident, including two 22mm high pressure hose reels as well as a 10.5m triple extension ladder. Just like the larger appliances in use, there will also be four sets of breathing apparatus stowed in the vehicle.

It is estimated that the new smaller appliance is saving the service around £120,000 in running costs over its lifetime and is roughly £20,000 cheaper than the larger fire appliances.

Before going ‘on the run’, the vehicle will undergo a period of testing and evaluation on station with crews to identify any minor changes which need to be made. Training requirements will also be identified for the firefighters who will be driving the appliance.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Tony Carlin said: “This next generation appliance has been designed using the expertise and knowledge of a number of firefighters and officers and we are very excited to be welcoming it into our service.

“We want to provide our staff with the best available equipment to be able to carry out their work and these new vehicles will give us a much more dynamic emergency response fleet. Not only this, but these vehicles cost the service less to buy and run, making the money of the people we serve go further.”

The fire engine will be initially attending emergency calls in Sheffield and Doncaster, where it will spend three months at each station. After this six month period, the service will collate any feedback from firefighters to make any required improvements before placing an order for several more.

Service re-launches smoke alarm reminder service

People can now opt to receive free weekly reminders to test their smoke alarms thanks to an initiative kick-started today, Monday 8 July, by South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

The service has just refreshed its website, www.pressthebutton.co.uk, where people can opt into alerts either via Twitter, text or email.

Hundreds of people signed up to get the reminders when the website was first launched, a number of years ago, and it is hoped that more people will now follow suit.

“We’ve been asking people to regularly test their smoke alarms for quite some time now, but we’re very aware that everyone has extremely busy lives,” said Station Manager Matt Gillatt, from the joint police and fire community safety team.

“With everything going on smoke alarm testing can easily be forgotten – even if it does only take a second and can potentially save your life.

“Our dream is that everyone tests their smoke alarm each week, without fail, and our hope is that this reminder service helps bring us closer to fulfilling that dream.”

Visitors to the website are asked to input their name and either a phone number, email address or Twitter handle – they can then choose to get weekly or monthly reminders.

The service in South Yorkshire recommends weekly and, according to Matt, the majority of people signed up at present choose to get their reminders via email.

“Smoke alarms give you an early warning should a fire hit and have been responsible not only for saving multiple lives across our county in recent years, but also for helping limit damage to people’s homes.

“Whilst protecting life is what we’re here for, it’s important to remember that getting hurt isn’t the only risk that fire poses. A house fire, even where nobody is involved, can turn your life around and be a huge inconvenience.

“I’d highly recommend people take a few minutes to opt in to these reminders and, when you get them each week, you act on the prompt.”

The re-launch comes after a Sheffield woman credited working smoke alarms for her escape from a fire that gutted her flat, on Park Grange Croft, in November last year.

Patricia Proctor was just about to get in the shower at around 10.30am, on Friday 30 November, when her smoke alarms – which had been fitted by the fire service only weeks before – went off.

Unable to see the fire herself, which was developing in a boiler cupboard and starting to spread within her walls, Patricia thought the alarms may just be sounding as a test – until her neighbours, and subsequently her son, knocked on the door and got her out of the property.

The 80-year-old, who had been referred to South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue by Age UK in September last year, said: “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know or see that it was a fire, I didn’t know you could have electrical fires in boiler cupboards.

“I thought everyone had smoke alarms but you can see why they put them in, if you’ve not got them. They don’t just do it for no reason.”

You can sign up for the free reminders at www.pressthebutton.co.uk.

New Assistant Fire Chief for South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority (SYFRA) has appointed a new Assistant Chief Fire Officer.

Tony Carlin was appointed following a selection process which included a written application, operational assessment and panel interview with members of the Fire Authority.

Tony had been fulfilling the role on a temporary basis, having first joined South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue in 2000. He began his career as a firefighter in North Yorkshire in 1992.

He’s built up a broad range of experience within the fire and rescue service- overseeing areas including community and business fire safety, workforce development, training and data and performance. He’s also acted as a workplace mentor to other leaders within the fire and rescue service.

Fire Authority Chair Cllr Robert Taylor, said: ”The selection process was rigorous and keenly contested. The final shortlist contained officers of exceptional ability, so for Tony to be the pick of those officers is an outstanding achievement. The qualities he demonstrated in selection will be positive assets in developing the strategies to drive the service forward in what is an extremely challenging period for the fire and rescue service ”

 Tony said: “It’s a very busy time for the service- with our first formal inspection in many years underway and proposals now published for how we intend to deal with annual cost pressures of up to £4 million. But despite the undoubted challenges we face, I know that the fire service is home to some of the best and most dedicated members of staff in any of the UK public services, and I am very proud of the role they play in making South Yorkshire safer and stronger.”

Month left for people to have say on fire service plans

There’s less than a month to go for people to have their say on fire service plans to meet a financial shortfall of up to £4 million.

Draft plans considered by South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s governing Fire Authority in April propose reducing the number of firefighters on a fire engine from five to four.

No firefighters would be made redundant under the proposals, with the reductions being achieved gradually as and when firefighters retire.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue says the only realistic alternative to making the change- which has already been adopted by many other services nationwide- is to reduce the speed of its 999 response during the night time period from up to half of its fire stations.

The organisation faces cost pressures of up to £4 million, due to no longer being able to use a way of staffing fire stations called Close Proximity Crewing and because it may have to meet a significant, national shortfall in pension contributions.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson, said: “There has been some misinformation out there about what we’re proposing- to be clear, we’re not making firefighters redundant and fire engines already ride with four people on them about a third of the time.

“We’d rather not make any changes at all, but doing nothing is not an option. We think it’s better to reduce the number of firefighters on a fire engine, than it is to slow down response times to some of our communities by reducing the number of fire engines which are immediately available.

“We’ve published our draft plans and invite the public to share their views on them before the consultation closes in a few weeks time.”

All fire and rescue authorities must provide a plan which sets out the steps they will take and resources they need to deliver public safety, reduce fires and save lives. This is known as an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP). It must be publicly available, reflect consultation with stakeholders and demonstrate the most up-to-date analysis of local risk.

People can share their views via an online survey, at www.syfire.gov.uk/haveyoursay, or in writing to IRMP Consultation, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, 197 Eyre Street, Sheffield S1 3FG.

Once the consultation period has ended on Friday 2 August and feedback has been considered, Fire Authority members will make the final decision on the proposals.