Fire service cost saving plans debated by Authority

Fire service plans to meet an annual £4 million cash shortfall have been debated by its governing Fire Authority.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s final proposals were presented to members on Monday (16 September), having considered responses to a consultation exercise which were broadly supportive of the main cost saving option put forward- to reduce the number of firefighters on a fire engine from five to four.

Voting on the proposals, members decided that if no viable alternative to achieve the level of savings predicted is identified, then the adoption of four firefighters on all frontline fire engines would be implemented in 2020/21. But they also called upon the service to spend the rest of this financial year exploring alternative methods of achieving the required savings and to recruit firefighters to reduce the amount of money it is currently having to spend on overtime.

Fire officers had already made a series of commitments in response to the consultation. Those commitments included investing in technology to help firefighters on the incident ground, regularly monitoring the service’s performance in relation to sickness and safety and only implementing the change at as many stations as it needs to in order to meet the financial shortfall.

Chief Fire Officer James Courtney, said: “In responding to the consultation feedback, we’ve already described the savings we’ve made to protect our frontline service and we will continue to explore further options, as directed by members. However, whilst we would rather not make any changes to our frontline service at all, we’re pleased that the Fire Authority has acknowledged that riding with four firefighters on a fire engine remains a viable solution should we be required to implement it.”

Extra mental health support for firefighters announced

South Yorkshire firefighters are to get extra mental health support, chief officers have announced.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has published its first ever health and wellbeing strategy, which will put in place extra measures to supercharge support, ditch stigmas and change the culture around mental illness.

Specific help it plans to put in place include using British Red Cross specialists to provide fire crews with psychosocial support following traumatic incidents.

More than a dozen staff from across the organisation will also be trained up as peer support workers, meaning they too can visit crews after critical incidents.

The service also says it will invest in a 24/7 telephone counselling service, which any member of staff can contact for issues ranging from stress and anxiety, to money worries.

More information will also be made available to staff, telling them where they can get extra help if they are struggling with their mental health either inside or outside of work.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson, said: “Mental health has never had a higher profile nationally, but it’s a particularly important issue when talking about 999 staff who deal with traumatic incidents almost every day.

“We already offered lots of support to our staff, but it’s only right that we look to continually review and update the support we offer, adopting learning from other sectors and making our organisation the best it can possibly be as a place of work.”

The service already has its own in-house occupational health unit, access to counselling services, staff support networks and MIND Blue Light Champions- volunteers with an interest in mental health who can offer a listening ear.

A 2019 Mind survey found 85 per cent of fire and rescue workers had experienced stress or poor mental health whilst working for the emergency services.

Fire service publishes details of 50 ways it is collaborating with other 999 services

South Yorkshire’s fire service has published details of 50 ways it is working with other blue light services to save time, cut costs and deliver a better service to the public.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has unveiled the list to show local people the ways in which it is working more closely with the region’s 999 services, from training and community safety work, to shared teams, equipment and buildings.

50 Ways We’re Collaborating

Highlights of its collaborative work with South Yorkshire Police include a joint community safety department, shared police and fire station in Maltby and more than 1,500 hours of training that’s been jointly delivered to over 500 members of staff.

It’s also working with Yorkshire Ambulance Service and neighbouring fire and rescue services on everything from drones and operational learning, to buying cutting gear and fire kit.

The Policing & Crime Act 2017 placed a new statutory duty on all three emergency services to look at opportunities to work with one another better to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The bulk of the collaborative work undertaken by SYFR both before and after the Act came into force involves South Yorkshire Police, although the fire service says it is also working closely with the ambulance service and other local fire and rescue services.

SYFR Deputy Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson, said: “The benefits of collaboration with the police, ambulance and other fire services have always been about more than saving money. For us, it’s about delivering the best service we possibly can to the people we serve. Whilst we still believe each of the emergency services should retain their own unique skills, brand and specialisms, we want to show local people that we are serious about putting them first and providing them with the most efficient and most effective service possible.”

South Yorkshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, said: “We welcome every opportunity to work with our blue light partners to achieve greater impact and realise efficiencies for the tax payer. Whilst it is essential we continue to focus on our specialist areas of work, there are areas in which we can collaborate to achieve a more effective and efficient service.”

Fire Authority Chair Cllr Robert Taylor, said: “It is fair to say that historically the individual services, other than at emergency incidents, have operated mainly in isolation. There are of course positive examples of previous joint-working but true collaboration has been resisted partially through the fear of a loss of individual identity. To some extent necessity has enabled services to look at collaboration  through fresh eyes and outside of the financial considerations there’s a realization that by working together, the services we offer to the public and the ways we function can be greatly improved.”

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “The collaborative work between South Yorkshire’s Fire and Rescue Service and the Police precedes my time as Police and Crime Commissioner.  But I have sought to move that on at pace by chairing a joint collaboration board which has overseen much of that work. As a result I think we can demonstrate both greater effectiveness and greater efficiency, including cashable savings. It is not easy bringing two very different organisations together. They have different cultures and histories.  But we are showing that we can work well together if we put the interests of the people we seek to serve first.”

A new strategy outlining South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s approach to collaboration will be published next month.

Police and fire youth programme to celebrate 20th course achievement

The only Princes Trust youth development programme in the country to be jointly delivered by the fire and police services has helped more than 200 young people since going live three years ago.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is on the cusp of delivering its 20th Princes Trust Team Programme– most of them delivered in conjunction with South Yorkshire Police.

Team Programme is a 12 week personal development course for unemployed 16 to 25 year olds, offering work experience, qualifications, practical skills, community projects and a residential week.

Courses have been delivered in Barnsley, Rotherham and Sheffield and are always based at fire stations.

Ryan Ibbeson is among the young people who’ve been helped by taking part in the course.

Speaking at his graduation event in front of family and friends, he said:

“Before I came onto this programme I was simply sat in my bedroom doing absolutely nothing and pretty much wasting my life playing games and staying up all night until four in the morning. My head was also in a really bad place at the time to a point where I was sometimes thinking that there was simply no point of me being here anymore.

“But this course has made me believe that I’m here for a reason. What’s helped me more than anything is the people I have met as they have been fun to talk to and have always managed to keep me in a good mood.”

Another participant Shima Nazari said: “The programme helped me more than I thought it would. They helped me realise that if I put my mind to something, I will get something in return. I loved the team and wish I was able to do it again and again.

Head of the police and fire services’ joint community safety department Steve Helps, said: “We know that people’s life chances are determined early- which is why we think it’s so important to give people the skills and confidence they need to live their best life. We’re proud of the impact we’re made on more than 200 people and look forward to welcoming another batch of young people onto our twentieth programme.”

If you’re aged 16 to 25 and not currently in education, training or employment, sign up by emailing princestrust@syfire.gov.uk.

Young Barnsley homeless safer thanks for fire funding

Dozens of young homeless people in Barnsley are safer from fire, thanks to Fire Authority funding.

Centrepoint Barnsley has helped more than 110 people aged 16 to 25 by giving them training in fire, road and water safety ahead of them moving into fresh accommodation.

The charity has also distributed specially designed ‘move on packs’ containing everything from fire retardant bedding to safe cooking equipment- helping to give young people the safest possible start in their new homes.

Some have even been awarded ‘move on grants’ to help them buy reputable white goods, like fridges and tumble dryers. This avoids them buying cheap, dodgy appliances online which could put them at greater risk of fire.

Jacob, aged 23, and Megan, aged 17, are amongst the young people who’ve been helped under the scheme.

The couple were referred to a Centrepoint service in 2018, having been homeless for several months and sleeping in a local park. Megan was four months pregnant at the time of her arrival and the main concern for Centrepoint was to ensure that the family had a home to move in to when their baby was born.

The pair engaged in education modules at the fire and police service run Lifewise centre and were able to achieve qualifications in fire, road and water safety. This supported their application for a tenancy and they moved in to their own property a couple of weeks before their son George was born.

Megan and Jacob were also able to apply for a good quality white goods appliance for their property- an important safety measure for people on low incomes. Megan is now looking after George and Jacob enters into employment very soon.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Area Manager Steve Helps, said: “We were clear from the start that we wanted the funding the Fire Authority had made available to help us reach people in our communities who are most at risk of fire. The practical support and meaningful education this project has delivered to a targeted group of vulnerable young people is a brilliant illustration of how we’re achieving that goal.”

Centrepoint Barnsley works with the local authority and partners in the town to provide support accommodation. Along with a safe place to stay, it offers technical and practical support to help young people move on to live independently.

The charity’s ‘Engage, Educate, Encourage’ project was awarded £50,000 under South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority’s Stronger Safer Communities Reserve. The fund reinvests money into local communities to support our work to prevent emergencies. The money has been set aside from the Authority’s reserves.

Free moped and scooter training for young riders

South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership (SYSRP) is offering free moped and scooter training to young riders, as part of its work to reduce the number of young people killed or injured on the region’s roads.

The partnership  is giving all 16 to 24-year-olds who live or work in the county the chance to take part in extra training with a qualified instructor.

CBT Plus is aimed at riders who have recently passed their Compulsory Basic Training with the aim of improving their skills and confidence.

Joanne Wehrle, SYSRP manager, said: “This training opportunity forms a key part of our work to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads – statistics in which the 16-24 age group has been consistently over-represented.

“The course is usually £75 but thanks to funding from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and a link up with local training providers, we can now offer it completely free of charge.

“We really hope that young people will take advantage of this offer and get the additional time with experienced riders.”

CBT Plus is a three-hour session and is designed to help riders to spot potential hazards earlier and react with greater confidence while overtaking, filtering, cornering and negotiating junctions, while also making them safer riders.

The session also includes discussions on the benefits of wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and how to carry out basic vehicle safety checks which will also reduce running costs.

Joanne added: “CBT Plus offers a perfect opportunity to build on the knowledge and skills that riders learn during their basic training.

“The course is designed to enable riders to handle real-life road situations and meet the challenges of the county’s busy road networks.

“Offering further training will help them to get more enjoyment out of their scooter or motorbike and hopefully get them interested in becoming long term motorcycle riders.”

Further information about the scheme can be found on the Safer Roads Partnership website (sysrp.co.uk/cbtplus) where you can also apply for your code.

Riders must sign up by Monday 30 September.

Fire safety warning after property developer sentenced

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue says the prosecution of Sheffield property developers for flouting fire safety laws at city centre student flats serves as a stark warning to landlords and developers.

Ashgate Property Developments Ltd was fined £36,000 when the firm was sentenced at Sheffield Magistrates Court on Tuesday (20 August 2019). The company was also ordered to pay the prosecution costs totalling £12,719.

The company pleaded guilty to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 relating to a student accommodation block on Rockingham Lane, Sheffield.

Following fire safety concerns raised by a resident, inspecting officers from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s business fire safety team visited the premises in October 2017.

During the fire safety inspection, and subsequent follow up visits, the service identified a number of serious fire safety concerns. These included the fact that there was poor fire separation between flats and the corridor escape route at the time that tenants moved in to the property. Dust covers had been left on smoke detectors and a roller shutter door which could have been used as an escape route in the event of a fire was found to be inadequate.

Inspectors issued an enforcement notice to ensure the defects were remedied and a prohibition notice preventing the roller shutter door from being closed at night.

Area Manager Steve Helps, said: “This verdict should serve as a stark warning to property developers and landlords that they have a duty under fire safety laws to ensure people sleeping in premises they’re responsible for are safe from the risk of fire”.

“If we find people are ignoring these responsibilities we won’t hesitate to prosecute and the sentence handed down in this case shows that the courts take these matters just as seriously as we do.”

Fire service staff celebrate Cutlers award win

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue staff members are celebrating a double award win at the Cutlers’ Company Police and Fire Service annual awards in recognition of their exemplary service.

Station Manager Thomas Hirst received the fire service individual award for his work in providing crews across the brigade with basic sign language training.

The training, developed in partnership with the Communication Specialist College Doncaster, provided crews with basic British Sign Language (BSL) in order to improve their communication skills when attending incidents in their local communities.

To put their new skills to the test, crews also took part in a realistic fire exercise based in the residential facilities at the college. Students played a part in the scenario which saw firefighters having to communicate using BSL in order to direct students safely of out the building.

The training was so popular that Tom also developed an e-learning package so that more firefighters could learn basic sign to be used at an incident.

The service’s training school administration team were recognised for their work in supporting a number of teams within the service in delivering vital projects and continually going above and beyond their day-to-day roles.

The team recently offered support and advice to wholetime firefighter recruits and in the last 14 -16 months have helped, assisted and supported upwards of 40 new trainees.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Alex Johnson said: “These awards are the best possible example of how we continually strive to be the best at everything we do. They are a fantastic achievement for the fire service and provide well deserved recognition for the hard and varied work our staff do on a daily basis to keep the public of South Yorkshire safe.”

The awards, which took place in the Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield, were presented by the Master Cutler, Nicholas Cragg.

Thousands in Barnsley to be safer thanks to council and fire data sharing sign-up

Thousands of people in Barnsley will be safer from fire, thanks to a new arrangement between the council and fire service.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue and Barnsley Council have signed an agreement which means the addresses of around 4,000 properties which receive assisted bin collections will be passed onto the fire service so that specialist staff can offer free smoke alarms and advice on stopping blazes to residents.

The council offers assisted bin collections to people with a disability or medical condition which prevents them from putting their bins out on their own. With known links between people receiving assisted collections and risk of fire, the agreement has been put in place so the fire service can contact people living at those addresses to offer them help.

Area Manager Steve Helps, said: “This is a brilliant example of where data protection laws- which are rightly in place to protect people’s information- should not get in the way of public bodies working together, in the public interest, to make people safer. By having the right safeguards and privacy protocols in place, we’ve shown that a common sense approach can cut duplication of effort and potentially save people’s lives.

“So many of the people who needlessly die in house fires are known to another agency whether that’s a local authority, social housing provider or health partner. So our aspiration is that, where appropriate, we can develop further data sharing agreements like this with other public services in the future under the legislation available to us.”

Cllr Alan Gardiner, Cabinet Spokesperson for Core Services at Barnsley Council, said: “It’s great that we can partner with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue to use our data to benefit our communities. Many residents who get an assisted waste collection have a disability or medical condition, so we’re pleased to be able to work with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue to provide people with even more support to keep them safe.”

Between 2011 and 2017, 53 people died in house fires in South Yorkshire. Many of those who died (61%) were older people aged 50 or over, with fire service investigations finding that issues such as hoarding, drugs, alcohol and mental health problems frequently contributing to the fires starting. Half of those who died lived on their own.

The fire service says the best way for partners to help is to sign-up to become a ‘Safe and Well’ partner. This is a scheme which aims to improve how the fire service and local organisations work together to effectively identify and reduce hazards for people most at risk.

Common measures to protect those most at risk include fitting smoke alarms, providing flame retardant bedding and installing misting systems to suppress fires.

For more information about the scheme and to ask about your organisation signing up to become a partner, click here

Final chance for people to have say on fire service plans

There’s less than a week 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 May 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: “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’re not making firefighters redundant and fire engines already ride with four people on them about a third of the time.”

“We’ve published our draft plans and invite the public to share their views on them before the consultation closes in a few days 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 5 August and feedback has been considered, Fire Authority members will make the final decision on the proposals.

ENDS