Guest Blogger - Paul Way

05 July 2013

Covering an FDS Officers Duty Weekend Period in the East Cover Area.

I volunteered to put pen to paper whilst the Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive was away as I was just coming on to a pair of duty weekends covering the East of the Fire Authority area (from just West of Bexhill over to Camber and up as far as Punnetts Town in 'the North') .

The County and City are divided into four geographic areas for Officer Cover, North, South, East and West, as I say I am an East Officer.  I am on duty for two weekends out of eight, these fall back to back and involve eleven 24 hour duty periods over 19 days. This doesn't mean staying at the local community fire station all day and night but it does involve living within the designated cover area, carrying a paging unit and driving a response car.  I have, as far as possible and safe, a twenty minute window to attend any incident within my area.

Being Flexi Duty basically involves giving operational cover in addition to one’s normal 'day job' and supporting the Operational Watches and Crews at incidents.  This can involve telephone advice, attending incidents to support the initial Incident Commander and if necessary and appropriate taking over.  Flexible Duties System Officers are mobilised to potentially life threatening incidents including “Persons Reported” fires and road traffic collisions where persons are trapped.  We are also sent to the more unusual incidents such as chemical spills, animal rescues and are informed when a development Incident Commander rides in charge of a fire appliance - in this case we will go along to offer mentoring support and guidance.

That is the high profile side - what many people won't see and even colleagues may not be aware of is the host of other activities we get involved in.  These can include fire safety queries and complaints, accident/ safety event occurrences, queries from members of the public or partner agencies and personal issues for on or off duty colleagues.

My 'day job' is Station Manager (Operations) Hastings and I am part of a Borough Command Team where I work very closely with the Station Manager (Fire Safety) and our Line Manager the Borough Commander.  I look after nine Watches and 84 Firefighters and am myself supported by the Borough Admin Assistant, Borough Fire Safety Admin and Colleagues within the central teams at our Headquarters in Eastbourne.

I felt it might be of interest for colleagues and members of our community to know what kind of things befall a Flexi Duty Officer during a set of weekends, so here goes:

Started my series of 24’s interviewing four candidates to become Retained Duty System Firefighters at The Ridge Community Fire Station.  Full on day- quite exhausting being on the panel but some quality candidates put through to the next stage- physical testing.  Early evening picked up a “Persons Reported” call down on the ‘Front Line’ Hastings Sea Front.  Small fire quickly dealt with but a number of fire safety issues in what we refer to as a House In Multiple Occupation. Operational Crews fitted smoke detectors to every floor in the common areas. I spent considerable time liaising with the Managing Agent, various Occupiers, gathering evidence and then completing a written contemporaneous note.  This will now be taken over by the local Borough Council Housing Officers and the Borough Fire Safety Team.

Safety In Action was being held at Bohemia Road this week and I spent time talking to children and their teachers.  Met up with the new Service Chaplain, Rev Neville Barnett and took him to meet the Green Watches at both Hastings Stations.  Spent time talking to Blue Watch Colleagues who had attended an traumatic incident where a young person had regrettably taken their own life, I attempted, as best I could to provide emotional support.  Late finish, having been involved in a six appliance exercise at a local risk venue, also caught up with my Retained Duty System Watch at The Ridge to discuss appliance availability and the medium term training requirements.

The following day my Borough Commander, the Fire Safety Manager and I met two of the new Fire Authority Members who have wards in Hastings. Interesting morning and good to renew an old acquaintance and make a new one – we also discussed the direction of travel for the Service given the on-going financial pressures that the Fire Authority are facing.

Early hours of Friday, just before 3am, mobilised to a “Persons Reported” fire in the Old Hastings Area, which was already a well-developed fire in a first floor bathroom and considerable smoke logging on second floor above.  Two persons led to safety by the Service and premises either side evacuated.  I knew immediately I wouldn’t be going back to my bed!  Rapid, offensive firefighting actions kept damage to a minimum and it was a great opportunity to catch up with both my Green Watches (Bohemia Rd and The Ridge) and my Retained Watch at the same incident- some very professional and experienced people there - and also grand to see some newer faces coming on.  Further investigations, photographs and more notes!

On Saturday I attended the Sussex Baby & Toddler show with one of our Home Safety Advisors and spent an enjoyable day promoting community safety and in particular the Home Safety Visits. I really enjoy meeting members of the public and being FRS we are very well received.  Call me old fashioned but I am really proud of what we in the Service are about and I do get a buzz out of promoting it.

Quiet Sunday, I tend to work quite often on rota days (days off) so where possible on the weekend will catch some family time and provide cover from home.  I do normally pop in to the Stations though for a wet of tea with the duty Watches.

Monday I attended the Borough Commanders/ Station Managers meeting in HQ.  We heard presentations from our Community Risk Manager, our Head of Learning & Development and the Head of Protection (Fire / Business Safety), all good useful stuff.  Afterwards I received my annual performance appraisal which went very well, always an important event for me.

Tuesday I attended an operational debrief for the six appliance exercise the previous week which I was the Incident Commander for.  Always good to have a de-brief and cover learning points to improve future performance.

In the evening I met another new Fire Authority Member from Hastings and introduced him to the duty watch and the RDS Watch at The Ridge.  I was programmed to deliver some input to one of the Watches on the outcomes of a serious fire that occurred in another FRS in 2010 where two Firefighters tragically lost their lives, my input was interrupted though by a fire call so I will need to re-schedule.

The following day I attended the Hastings Multi Agency Tasking Team (MATT) meeting at the local Town Hall.  These involve many of the local partners, Police, Borough Council, Youth Offending Teams and Social Housing Providers.  We all get round the table and work out how to support local neighbourhood policing areas and specific vulnerable individuals.
Later, I visited one of our watches in the Mobilising Centre, the people who take the emergency calls and mobilise our resources. I am what we call an HMEPO, this means I specialise in Hazardous Materials Incidents and I went to give some input in dealing with incidents involving explosives.

On the journey back across to Hastings I was put onto one of those ‘Unusual’ Incidents.  Three young lads stuck in mud in the Old Roar Ghyll area of Alexandra Park, Hastings.  An interesting incident which involved the Green Watches from both Bohemia Road and The Ridge supported by the specialist Technical Rescue Unit from Battle.  Quite a crowd had gathered and I was primarily involved overseeing protection of the scene and liaising with attending Police and Ambulance personnel.  The Crews used a floating rescue path and what we call a mud lance to release the youngsters, safe and well, albeit quite dirty! Some of the boys’ parents attended the scene and were clearly impressed as we ‘decontaminated’ the young people with a hose-reel jet and a hand brush- a day they are likely to remember!

One of my young children had an inset day, so my wife and I took him to Legoland in Windsor, thoroughly recommend it on any day other than a school holiday. Great fun and yes I did visit the Fire Academy and no I did not disgrace myself in the Legoland Firefighter Challenge – in fact I think I was quietly impressive!

My pair of duty weekends finished with a mobilisation from home late evening to smoke issuing from the fourth floor of a medium rise block of flats and with the fire alarm activating on every floor in the premises.  I had literally just arrived home having been writing up a development plan for a Firefighter recently posted to The Ridge on the RDS Migration Programme, but ended up driving straight back the way I had come.  This was one of those occasions where all the signs indicated a ‘going job’.  The initial attending appliance commander gave a positive first impressions message “Smoke Issuing” and upon arrival I saw firefighters rapidly setting into the buildings rising main. This is a water main that runs internally up inside taller buildings and allows firefighters to obtain water at each floor level without the need to haul hose up externally.

Parking in a suitable position so as not to impede further oncoming appliances I have to get rigged into my fire kit at the back of the response car whilst still trying to appraise the situation and listen to the ‘Fireground’ Communications. That is the messages from the personnel actually at the scene talking to one another.  Making my way up to the fourth floor, I liaised with the initial incident commander and found a flat heavily smoked from burnt food.

I then toured the common ways picking up a couple of fire safety issues, more paperwork, but important nonetheless as the issues identified will be fed back through ourselves to the responsible person for the building and ultimately make conditions safer for both the occupiers and attending fire crews.

So that was that.  Always a good feeling when they are done, normally plenty to reflect upon.  Figured it hadn’t been the busiest, but not the quietest set of duty weekends either; and there had certainly been a couple of interesting incidents.

This was a fortnight in the life of Station Manager Paul Way.