Water safety warning ahead of bank holiday

Firefighters are urging people to stay safe near open water ahead of the bank holiday weekend.

Over 400 people die in the water every year in the UK, and firefighters are urging people to follow some basic rules to stay safe.

Officers say people should avoid open water- like rivers and lakes- because they may not always be aware of the danger it poses. River flows can be unpredictable and water is often deeper, colder and faster than expected. People should enjoy water safely in swimming pools or safer, specialist facilities instead.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue head of community safety Kevin Ronan, said: “It shouldn’t take tragedy to bring the issue of water safety to public attention, but recent cases from elsewhere in the country of people drowning in open water are another reminder of the dangers rivers, lakes and reservoirs can present.

“We regularly receive 999 calls in the summer about people getting into difficulty in water, so it’s only a matter of time before someone’s safety is really put at risk unless people listen to our advice.

“It can be tempting to cool off in hot weather, but stick to a swimming pool. Hundreds of people drown each year in the UK and places like rivers, lakes or flooded quarries places are completely unsuitable for swimming as they hide a number of hidden dangers.”

The dangers of open water are:

  • The water can be much deeper than you expect
  • Rivers, lakes, canals and reservoirs are much colder than you think
  • Cold water dramatically affects your ability to swim
  • There may be hidden currents, which can pull you under the water
  • You don’t know what lies beneath, like pieces of rubbish or reeds which can trap or injure you

New Assistant Fire Chief for South Yorkshire

We have appointed a new Assistant Chief Fire Officer following an extensive recruitment process.

Martin Blunden joins us with more than 20 years experience across three different fire and rescue services, having started his career in Buckinghamshire in 1994. Most recently, he has been Area Commander at Herfordshire Fire & Rescue.

Martin, aged 47, has also acted as a project lead for the Chief Fire Officer’s Association (CFOA), helping to ensure that learning from incidents that firefighters attend is identified and shared effectively.

Fire Authority Chairman Jim Andrews said, “The Authority is delighted to announce the appointment of Martin Blunden as Assistant Chief Fire Officer here in South Yorkshire. Martin brings with him a wealth of experience and will be a tremendous addition to the service’s executive team. The Authority looks forward to working with Martin in the future and maintaining the highest standards of service to the communities of South Yorkshire.”

South Yorkshire hosts GIS conference

We have hosted a major national data and mapping conference attended by fire services throughout the UK.

Faced with reduced budgets and changing demands, many fire services are recognising the key role that geographic information systems (GIS) can play in supporting smarter working.

GIS is a cost-effective solution which helps organisations in both the public and private sectors maximise their investment in geographic information by making it easier to share data between people and systems.

The system can illustrate response times from fire stations to incidents and assist the service with staffing and rostering issues by plotting the times from individual homes to stations.

The 2015 Cadcorp Fire Conference showcased the latest developments in GIS systems and discovered how they can aid the sharing of local knowledge.

SYFR Watch Manager Graham Howe, said: “Events like this are an important way for fire services to come together and learn how to make the most of the benefits systems like this can provide, ultimately helping to improve outcomes for the communities we are here to protect.

“It was an honour for South Yorkshire to once again be chosen as hosts for the event, which has fast become a ‘must attend’ event for many UK fire service intelligence teams.”

Stevenage-based Cadcorp is a UK based developer and supplier of GIS and web mapping software.

Firefighters put through their paces at live Rotherham training exercise

Firefighters have held a training exercise in Rotherham, testing their ability to respond to a large incident at an industrial premises in the town.

Dozens of firefighters took part in the ‘live’ training at Culina Ambient, Hellaby which was designed to test the plans that are in place to deal with an incident on the site.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue regularly carries out training exercises at commercial premises across the county, to rehearse how it would respond to an emergency on the sites, some of which are required by law to test their contingency plans.

Partners including Yorkshire Ambulance Service, South Yorkshire Police, Environment Agency, Rotherham Council and Public Health England also took part in the exercise, helping the fire service to test how effectively it works alongside other emergency services.

Station manager Dave Scully, said: “Exercises such as this are vitally important for two reasons. First, they give our crews excellent experience of dealing with, bringing realistic scenarios to life in real time. Second, they help both us and the business to test the procedures that we have in place to deal with a major emergency on their site.”

“How we work alongside our emergency service partners- known as interoperability- is another important aspect to training like this, as there is much we can continue to learn from one another about our ways of responding to incidents.”

Sprinklers to be installed in 540 Sheffield homes

The fire service is working alongside Sheffield City Council to make hundreds of properties in the city safer by installing lifesaving sprinkler systems.

The partnership project between South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue and Sheffield City Council, which is a first in the UK, will see over 540 properties at four locations around Sheffield receive the purpose built automated equipment.

Flats at Gleadless Valley, Westfield, Stannington and Netherthorpe are being targeted to dramatically improve fire safety measures for residents.

One hundred homes have already benefited from the project that started in November, with the rest of the retrofitted installations planned to be in place by September 2015.

Technical fire safety manager Amy Jenkinson, said: “The combination of working smoke alarms and a home sprinkler system reduces the risk of death from fire by more than 80%.

“Automatic fire sprinklers are most effective during the initial stage of a fire occurring, as a properly installed sprinkler will detect the flames heat, initiate an alarm, and activate just moments after the flames appear.

“I would encourage everyone who receives a letter about the work to call the number provided as soon as possible so access can be arranged to carry out this essential work. The quicker the project is completed, the faster everybody’s safety is improved.”

A Sheffield Council spokesperson, said: “We are working hard to make sure that our tenants and leaseholders are ‘fire safe’ and fully aware of the dangers a fire can bring, especially in flats and maisonettes.

“The fire suppression and sprinkler projects are a part of a large four year investment programme for council housing in the city; to ensure tenants are safe in their homes.”

This project follows the successful retrofitting of an automated sprinkler system at the Callow Mount block of flats in Gleadless, a scheme that was also a first in UK, which is now internationally recognised for the improved safety it offers the people living within the building.

The Chief Fire Officer’s Association (CFOA) campaigns nationally to raise awareness of the benefits of sprinklers to businesses and educational establishments.

Plans submitted for joint Maltby police and fire base

We have submitted a planning application to enable firefighters to share Maltby police station with South Yorkshire Police.

The proposal, which would see the existing Maltby fire station close, won Government Transformation Funding of £560,000 last year. The move would save both the Police and the Fire Service money by sharing building running costs, enabling funding to be targeted at frontline services.

The move would also shift fire service resources around a mile closer to the east side of Rotherham, which traditionally accounts for a greater volume of emergency incidents compared to lower risk areas to the east of Maltby.

If the plans are approved by Rotherham Council, it is hoped to begin work in early 2016 converting the Police station to be suitable for fire service use, with the move to take place in the summer of 2016.

New Deputy Chief starts role

We have appointed a new Deputy Chief Fire Officer following an extensive recruitment process.

John Roberts, who is SYFR’s current Assistant Chief Fire Officer, will step up to the new role on 1 April 2015, when the current Deputy, Mark Shaw, will retire.

Mr Roberts, aged 39, initially joined SYFR in October 2009, becoming Assistant Chief in January 2013, after beginning his career at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in 1997.

Fire Authority Chair, Cllr Jim Andrews, said: “I would like to congratulate John on his appointment. We had some excellent applicants for this role from up and down the country. The panel was particularly impressed with John’s achievements in South Yorkshire in recent years, and his vision for the future of our Service.”

Chief Fire Officer, James Courtney, added: “John has been an excellent addition to South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue since he joined us in 2009. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him in enhancing the services we provide to the South Yorkshire public.”

Sheffield event puts South Yorks at forefront of tackling UK fire service gender issues

A major national conference seeking to address the issue of gender balance in the UK fire and rescue service has been held in Sheffield.

More than 90 delegates from nearly 30 different organisations met at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s Handsworth training centre for the event, hailed as the most important gender focussed event ever to have been held within the fire sector.

Keynote speakers included the Chief Executive of Kent Fire & Rescue, Ann Millington, and Becci Bryant, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Staffordshire Fire & Rescue.

New research was also presented by researchers from the organisation Women To Work about the potential barriers experienced by women in the fire and rescue service, as well as possible solutions.

The findings were based on research carried out with employees at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, placing SYFR at the forefront of addressing women’s development issues within the UK fire sector.

Sector leading research

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s Chief Fire Officer James Courtney, speaking at the event, said: “In my role as Chief Fire Officer I am rightly proud of much of the work we do in South Yorkshire- work that has helped make our communities safer than they have been at any time in my organisation’s history.

“But as someone who cares deeply about continuously improving and pushing myself and this organisation forward, I also try hard to be aware of our own challenges. We know that the issue of gender balance is a challenge for all fire and rescue services, which is what makes this event so important, providing an opportunity for real and lasting change.

“That’s why we opened ourselves up to the research. We hope that by opening our organisation up to this level of academic rigour and external scrutiny we can place South Yorkshire at the forefront of tackling gender balance within the fire and rescue service.”

Barriers and solutions

The research revealed the main barriers to gender balance in the fire and rescue service being the culture of an organisation. Although women are now an established part of the workforce, the pace of changes to organisational culture has often been much slower.

Other barriers cited included policies at work, including those relating to childcare and maternity leave, and promotion processes, where male colleagues often benefit from a certain level of informal networking and mentoring in a way which is not always open to women.

Women’s confidence and sense of self worth was also seen as a barrier, with many choosing not to put themselves forward for promotion even though they had all of the necessary competencies.

But research participants also came up with a long list of solutions to some of these issues, including more flexible working patterns, development programmes and mentoring schemes, a review of current promotion processes and developing managers to recognise talent beyond traditional command and control traits.

Benefits of a diverse fire service

Becci Bryant, Deputy Chief Executive at Staffordshire Fire & Rescue, spoke about the important contribution a diverse workforce and make to a fire and rescue service

“I strongly believe that effective leadership today requires a combination of skills that are viewed as traditionally feminine and those seen as gender neutral. Research shows that many skills needed for successful leadership today are often perceived as traditional female attributes.

“People who are collaborative, empathetic, loyal and selfless were shown to be more successful than those deemed proud, resilient or independent. I do think that we women are up for a good challenge and we are not afraid of making mistakes, I certainly know I have made plenty but that is how we learn and grow as individuals and as leaders.

“I do think that women have a fantastic range of interpersonal skills, which allow us to see beyond the immediately obvious and explore other avenues especially when it comes to working with other people.

“As we move forward in the challenges we face we cannot act as an island, we have to be collaborative and be prepared to work with others as well as admitting we don’t actually have the answers because the challenges we face are unique to ones we have experienced before,” said Becci.

Good leadership

In her keynote address, Chief Executive Ann Millington of Kent Fire & Rescue spoke about the important role senior managers play in promoting a diverse workforce and how perceptions of what makes a ‘strong leaders’ have dramatically changed in the last century.

“Leadership models have changed from a position as little as 75 years ago where physical size- first shorter leaders, then taller ones- was seen as being vital to strong leadership, which seems almost incredible to us now.

“Then, ‘traits’ like charisma, strength and authority became important- traits which are pretty difficult to define and ultimately poor indicators of what makes a good leader.

“Finally, we have arrived at a position where authentic leadership is being championed, with the ability to be yourself and be who you are at work now a much stronger indicator of good leadership”, said Ann.

Fire Sprinkler Week plea for businesses

The fire service says sprinkler systems are key to preventing businesses going bust after a major fire, as it marks a national awareness week.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has tackled more than 500 fires in non-domestic properties over the last three years. The most serious of these incidents can take fire engines several hours to tackle, as well as potentially putting the company involved out of business.

But fire safety officers say sprinklers are the most effective way to ensure that fires are suppressed or even extinguished before the fire service can arrive.

Sprinklers save lives and reduce injuries, protect firefighters who attend incidents and reduce the amount of damage to both property and the environment from fire.

Currently, only commercial premises greater than 20,000m2 must have sprinkler systems installed. The fire service, through the Chief Fire Officers Association, is currently campaigning for this threshold to be lowered.

Technical fire safety manager Amy Jenkinson, said: “A sprinkler system can quickly suppress a fire before it gets out of control. When you consider the huge costs associated with a commercial premise fire such as rebuilding, relocation, loss of equipment, stock and trading, it seems like an obvious move to install a sprinkler system, but many businesses still don’t.”

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has already helped pioneer a drive for sprinklers to be installed in residential properties. In 2011, sprinklers were retro-fitted into a block of flats in Gleadless after a grant from the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association. It was the first scheme of its kind in the country.

It is also working with Sheffield City Council on a scheme to fit domestic sprinkler systems in hundreds of social housing properties across the city.

Fire Sprinkler Week (16 to 20 March), coordinated nationally by the Chief Fire Officer’s Association (CFOA), seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of sprinklers to businesses and educational establishments.

The theme of the 2015 week is business continuity, focusing on the support that fitting automatic fire sprinkler systems can provide to business and to educational continuity.

Fire officers back minister’s smoke alarms in rented homes announcement

South Yorkshire fire officers have welcomed the announcement that the government plans to introduce vital life-saving legislation on smoke alarms in rented properties ahead of the General Election.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue called for new laws requiring smoke alarms to be fitted in all privately rented homes, following the death of a young child in Conisbrough.

Libby-Jayne Hornsby, aged two, died after a fire at a rented property on Don Street, Conisbrough, Doncaster in October 2013. Fire investigators found no evidence of working smoke alarms inside the property, an inquest heard last year.

Campaigning on this issue, which will also require privately rented homes to be fitted with carbon monoxide detectors, has been led nationally by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).

Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt MP, speaking at the Local Government Association conference in Gateshead, said:

“Fire and rescue authorities will be very pleased that tenants in the private sector are to be given the protection from fire that they need. We will be working with them, and with the Chief Fire Officers Association, to make the transition for landlords as smooth as possible.”

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Area Manager Phil Shillito, said: “The lack of legislation requiring smoke alarms to be fitted in privately rented properties was highlighted at Libby’s inquest. Although we will never know for sure if smoke alarms would have made a difference at that incident, fire services nationally have been campaigning on this critical issue for some time, so it’s excellent that all that hard work has paid off.”

Preparations for the new powers requiring landlords to fit detectors in private rented homes have been completed, so the legislation will now be laid before parliament before the end of this parliamentary session.

The government’s own impact assessment suggested that over 200 lives could be saved nationally over the next 10 years by the introduction of this legislation. The draft new laws would be enacted by the Government as part of the Energy Act, which was given Royal Assent in December 2013.