Talking Point: A burning desire to protect the public

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 Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service Paul Hedley.
Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service Paul Hedley.

WITH Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service required to plan ahead to reduce risk in the next four years, the service has outlined both the cuts and positive results it has experienced.

Chief fire officer for Northumberland, Paul Hedley, attended a meeting of Tynedale local area council last Tuesday. He gave an idea of how ‘lean’ the service was, as he explained how its resources had changed since 2010.

The number of Wholetime Duty System (WDS) officers has reduced by 32 per cent from 164 to 112, while the number of retained firefighters has reduced by 23 per cent from 220 to 170.

Community safety officers have reduced from 37 to nine, a drop of 74 per cent; principal officers went from four to two and flexible duty officers reduced from 20 to 16.

Yet despite cuts to the service, Mr Hedley said he was very proud to be its head because of its positive performance.

In the last 10 years, the total number of incidents in Northumberland has reduced by over 31 per cent.

False alarms remain the majority of incidents attended, but automatic false alarms in non-domestic premises have reduced by 60 per cent since the 2003/4 financial year.

Mr Hedley said that, going forward, the service was going to look at the option of charging repeat offenders of automatic fire alarm systems – a policy other fire authorities in the country have already adopted.

“It might be a case of saying unless you can improve the way you manage your site, we might charge you for our attendance, because we don’t want to be out at false alarms, we want to be out in the community or dealing with real issues,” he said.

Outdoor fires make up 23 per cent of the service’s main incidents, and the number of those attended has reduced by 63 per cent since 2003/4, while accidental dwelling fires reduced by 35 per cent.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, like every other fire authority in the country, was required to draw up a Fire and Rescue Plan (Integrated Risk Management Plan) setting out its priorities until 2021. The plan is now out for public consultation.

Its priorities – to further reduce incidents and risks – include enhanced working with partner organisations and revising school education programmes.

A young driver safety event held in Hexham earlier this month was used as an example of how the service can work with the community to educate the public about risks, and this is something the service hopes to do more of, on top of working with other groups in the community.

Mr Hedley added: “To reduce the generic risk to any resident in Northumberland we are involved in things which don’t necessarily seem to be fire related.

“An example of that is the safe and well visits we do. By and large we are still seen as a truthful service with no agenda other than to help people.

“We have worked with the NHS and the North-East Ambulance Service on things like trips in the home, and have worked with the slips, trips and falls team and said anything we can do to help, we will.

“Going forward, if we can sort out resources, I don’t see any reason why any of the officers shouldn’t help people with something small like window locks or a door chain, or give advice on how to deal with cold callers.”

Following the presentation, Coun. Cath Homer, for Hexham East, said: “A lot of things we take for granted, such as all the additional things done by the fire service, teaching people about fire safety, taking part in community events or otherwise helping people in their homes.

“The young drivers safety event was a really fantastic evening with a really strong message.

“Given all the cuts we have had, and your results percentage, it shows what an amazing service we have got here in Northumberland.”

The public consultation on the four-year plan runs until September 1.

To read the plan and access the feedback document, go to: www.northumberland.gov.uk/NFRplan

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