Alex Johnson appointed South Yorkshire’s Chief Fire Officer

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

Alex Johnson was appointed following a selection process which included a written application and panel interview with members of the Fire Authority.

Alex joined South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue as Assistant Chief Fire Officer in 2017, before being promoted to Deputy Chief Fire Officer. She’d previously served with Derbyshire Fire & Rescue for more than 25 years, having joined as a firefighter in 1992.

Fire Authority Chair Cllr Robert Taylor, said: “Alex is an outstanding candidate who has demonstrated to Fire Authority members her commitment to building a successful, inclusive and positive culture at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

“In addition to her obvious talent in managing and developing people, she also has a firm operational background – which has been admirably demonstrated recently through her command of the fire service’s response to the widespread flooding which has hit our region.”

Alex will take over the role in January, when the current Chief Fire Officer James Courtney QFSM retires. James joined South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue in 2006 and has been Chief Fire Officer since 2011.

“Fire Authority members would like to thank James for the experience and leadership he has demonstrated in the role of Chief Fire Officer over the last eight years and wish him all the best for a long and happy retirement,” said Robert.

Alex said: “I inherit a successful organisation full of brilliant, talented people who are proud of the part they play in making South Yorkshire safer and stronger. Leading this organisation is the honour of a lifetime and I will do all I can to make the service a brilliant place to work, which delivers outstanding results for the communities we serve.”

Automatic fire alarms in commercial buildings- what businesses need to know

The fire service is changing the way it responds to automatic fire alarms in some types of commercial premises.

What do I need to know?

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue will no longer automatically mobilise fire engines to automatic fire alarms in some types of commercial premises from 6 January 2020.

Currently we automatically send fire engines to premises the moment a fire alarm goes off and the signal is passed, by a receiving centre, onto 999 control operators.

Instead, we will only mobilise fire engines if we receive a call to confirm there is definitely a fire.

Why is this change being implemented?

About 97% of the automatic fire 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 also brings South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue in line with the position of many other fire and rescue services nationally and that of the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Which premises will this apply to?

The change will affect:

  • Offices
  • Shops
  • Industrial buildings
  • Public buildings like libraries or museums
  • Places of worship

Which premises does this not apply to?

Premises unaffected by the change are:

  • Domestic properties with fire / smoke alarms
  • Other sleeping risk premises – including hospitals, sheltered housing, care or homes, houses of multiple occupation, flats, high-rise tower blocks, hotels, bedsits, boarding schools, colleges, universities or halls of residence
  • Schools
  • Heritage sites
  • Large industrial sites, covered by COMAH legislation
  • National critical infrastructure.
  • Shops with homes or sleeping accommodation above/below

As a business owner, what do I need to do?

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it’s the responsibility of businesses to ensure their alarm systems are checked regularly and maintained properly, to eliminate false alarms and make sure the alarm operates as it should do in the event of a genuine emergency. You will find more information here about automatic fire alarm systems and reducing unwanted fire signals.

In particular, business owners are advised to review their Emergency Plan to ensure that in the event of an alarm activation the following areas are considered:

  • During the normal working day a procedure should be in place for staff in the building to liaise with the Alarm Receiving Centre and confirm whether the Fire and Rescue Service need to be called in the event of a fire alarm activation
  • Outside of normal working hours contact details for nominated persons should be available to the Alarm Receiving Centre so that a responsible person can be called to attend the premises and determined the nature of the incident prior to the Fire and Rescue Service being called

The responsible person should contact their Alarm Receiving Centre as soon as possible to ensure they are aware of these new arrangements.

After the flood- safety advice for residents

  • Make sure the property is safe before you enter and start to clear up.
  • Arrange for services, such as gas and electricity, to be turned off. The electricity and gas supplies should remain off until you are sure it is safe to turn them back on.
  • Remember, items that have been in contact with floodwater may be contaminated and contain sewage, therefore make sure that anything that has been in contact with the water is safely cleaned.
  • Open your doors and windows to ventilate your home.
  • Be prepared, have a torch at hand when entering the property and do not use candles.
  • Do not go near any exposed wiring, as it may still be live. Do not attempt any electrical repairs or connection of temporary supplies yourself – always use a registered electrician.
  • Do not use any mains powered electrical appliances in the areas affected by the flood until advised that it is safe to do so.
  • If safe to use them, make sure heaters are kept well away from soft furnishings to prevent fires
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if diesel or petrol generators are used indoors

For advice on electrical safety www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk

South Yorkshire flooding- key facts

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue declared a major incident at around 10.30pm on Thursday 7 November as a result of widespread flooding across the county.

Our one, key safety message is do not enter flood water– either in your car or on foot.

Key facts:

  • Our 999 control operators have taken more than 2500 emergency calls, not just relating to flooding, since then
  • We’ve carried out around 290 rescues
  • We’re being supported by neighbouring fire and rescue services and national assets- including extra heavy pumping equipment  and extra boats
  • We’ve pumped more than 75 million litres away from flood hit areas

Attack on Sheffield fire engine condemned

Fire chiefs have condemned an attack on firefighters in Sheffield.

Firefighters from Central fire station were responding to reports of a fire on Wensley Street in Sheffield when their fire engine came under attack.

Objects including eggs and fireworks were thrown at the fire engine and crew. No firefighters were injured in the incident, which happened at around 8.30pm on 5 November.

Firefighters withdrew until police arrived, before proceeding to tackle the blaze- which turned out to be a wheelie bin fire in some woods, which had been started deliberately.

Area Manager Andy Strelczenie at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue said: “We are absolutely appalled that our firefighters appear to have been targeted in this way.

“Attacks like this place the safety of our firefighters, and the people they are trying to protect, at risk. Thankfully, this type of incident is extremely rare in South Yorkshire and it is only a tiny minority of people who would ever consider acting in such an irresponsible and dangerous way.

“However, even one attack on a firefighter is completely unacceptable – and we will work alongside the police to fully investigate any attacks and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

If you have any information about this attack please call 101, quoting police incident number 961 (5 November).

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act has made it an aggravating factor to attack police officers, paramedics, prison officers and firefighters, punishable by up to 12 months in prison.

Thousands of hours of joint training delivered to 100s of police and fire staff

Hundreds of police and fire staff have benefitted from more than 1,500 hours joint training, as collaboration between the two emergency services gathers pace.

South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue say more than 500 of their staff have taken part in shared courses from driver to first aid training- helping to save taxpayers thousands in the process.

The organisations now use each other’s premises to host training for their respective staff- including at the fire service’s development hub in Handsworth, Sheffield and the police training suite at Robert Dyson House in Rotherham.

Minibus, LGV driver, water rescue and health and safety training are amongst the specific courses delivered by fire service training instructors to police staff.

Police trainers have provided conflict management training and first aid courses to fire staff in return.

Managers from both organisations now routinely observe each other’s training exercises in a bid to improve understanding of responses to major incidents.

Fire officers have also benefitted from police led ‘joint decision making’ training, which improves the way managers make fast decisions at emergency incidents.

Managers say joint approaches to training like this save cash because it means organisations don’t have to needlessly buy in courses from specialist providers.

Group Manager for operational training at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, Matt Walker said: “Since signing a joint collaboration agreement last year, we have been working closely with South Yorkshire Police to develop new ways of working together. This has focused heavily on sharing of best practice and looking at how we can build on and develop existing and future activities to improve the way we operate.

“Not only does collaborating on training like this save both services and the public money, but it also ensures we are delivering the best possible service to the people of South Yorkshire.”

Claire Hayle, Head of Learning and Development at South Yorkshire Police, added: “South Yorkshire Police recognise the collective benefits that can be achieved through closer working with emergency service partners, and this is just one of the ways we are working in collaboration with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

“We are delighted to be able to deliver joint training to operational and support departments within both organisations, in turn gaining a greater understanding of each other’s organisations, saving public money and improving our services for the people of South Yorkshire.”

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.

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.