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Neil Spencer

‘Urgent agreement needed on our funding’ – Chief Fire Officer

Pound coins

Band D Council Tax payers in the West Midlands will pay just £1.21 a year extra for their fire and rescue service. At £61.81 a year, it’s the lowest fire service charge in England.

The 1.99% increase was approved on 17 February by members of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority (WMFRA). Please click here to read the full report.

But the Chair of WMFRA has called for additional central government funding to replace the deep cuts of the last 10 years and the lifting of a Government cap on how much extra Council Tax fire and rescue authorities can raise.

And Phil Loach, the West Midlands’ Chief Fire Officer, says that funding for the fire and rescue sector urgently needs to be reviewed, increased and allocated on a more sustainable basis.

Pound coins

CFO Loach said: “Metropolitan fire and rescue services have been the worst hit by reductions in Government funding, and West Midlands Fire Service more than any other.

“In spite of this, our staff continue to provide our wide range of prevention and protection services and emergency response that is officially recognised as second to none.

“Yet we only have certainty around our Government funding settlement for one year. If we are to maintain and improve upon our ‘good’ grading from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, then we urgently need more clarity around how we will be funded in the future.

“As the budget report to WMFRA makes clear, our sector faces a volatile funding environment. This hampers any meaningful financial planning and threatens the high standards for which our service is known and the confidence our communities place in us.”

CFO Loach said “huge questions” hang over fire and rescue finances.

“We await the Government’s next Comprehensive Spending Review and an indication of our likely funding beyond 2020/21. But we need urgent agreement on how the sector will be funded in the longer term and on other significant issues such as who will meet the future costs of firefighter pensions.

“Our funding needs to take account not only of demand we experience, but of the known and emerging risks we identify in our communities.

“Our firefighters and fire safety officers regularly visit high-rise buildings across the West Midlands, to familiarise themselves with how they are built and laid out. They record the information, which can later be accessed via mobile data terminals, to help keep our crews safe as they provide an assertive and effective response at incidents.

“However, I have no doubt that there are buildings in the West Midlands which, were they to catch fire, would potentially behave in ways that would be very difficult for our firefighters to fight.

“These buildings need to be found, our firefighters need to know the risks they face and remedial works need to be carried out. This is in addition to the extensive and urgent work we have already done post-Grenfell, which required an extra £600,000 investment by our Fire Authority.

“In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, building safety regulations and systems remain in sharp focus. Our sector needs significant extra investment if we are to take an enhanced role in future building safety regimes.”

Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of WMFRA, said: “Our Government funding settlement for 2020/21 is better than we expected. However, it is only for one year and we are guarding against a false sense of security when it comes to future settlements.

“We are constantly having to argue the fire and rescue sector’s case. What we need in future years is the £38m we have lost over 10 years of austerity replaced and greater flexibility in the amount of money we’re allowed to raise from Council Tax.

“At the moment we are only allowed to increase our share of the Council Tax by 1.99%. Anything above that would have to be put to a costly referendum.

“However, as an example, an increase of eight per cent – or, to put this into context, £5 per year for a Band D property – would raise an extra £3.5m to keep safe a population of nearly three million people. It wouldn’t come close to what we’ve lost in recent years, but it would be a great help and I know that the leaders of the West Midlands councils would support this.

“The firefighters and staff of West Midlands Fire Service do a fantastic job in keeping our communities safe. The service is recognised as one of the very best in the country. But without improvements in funding over a sustained period it will be very difficult for our already stretched fire service.”

Emergency Services Show 2019

Two firefighters compete in the 2018 first aid and trauma challenge at the NEC

We’re really looking forward to hosting two realistic and interactive road traffic collision (RTC) rescue challenges at this year’s Emergency Services Show.

Taking place at the NEC, Birmingham from 18 to 19 September, the Extrication and First Aid & Trauma Challenges will provide an arena for some of the UK’s best rescue personnel to come together and develop their proficiency levels in all areas of RTC rescue.

An image of the road traffic collision extrication challenge at last year's Emergency Services Show

On both days of the show, which is free to attend, competing teams from across the country will perform extrications from a series of realistic RTC scenarios featuring heavy and complex damage. Volunteer members of the our own Casualty Simulation Group will play the roles of casualties, complete with make-up and prosthetics.

Teams will have 20 minutes from their ‘arrival’ at these simulated incidents to complete as much of the scenario as is safely possible. The action will be captured from a variety of camera angles and broadcast live to a large display screen.

In the First Aid & Trauma Challenge, teams of two will experience visual and audio inputs from a trauma scenario that has been set up and filmed especially, in an ‘immersive’ tent. They’ll have 10 minutes to assess, treat, ‘package’ and handover the patient to a medic.

Both challenges will be judged by the United Kingdom Rescue Organisation (UKRO) who will ensure that best safe working practices are promoted in the areas of incident command and control, safety and scene assessment, extrication, professional pre-hospital care and expert use of rescue equipment.

Various national fire and rescue service crews will compete aiming to become the highest qualifying regional team. These top teams then go on to compete in national and international championships.

Watch Commander Martin McManus of West Midlands Fire Service said: “UK fire and rescue services strive to deliver the ‘gold standard’. They respond every year to thousands of incidents, many of which are extremely challenging and technical. As vehicle design and technology develop at pace, it’s essential that our crews train regularly and keep on top of these developments so they can respond quickly, safely and professionally when they’re called.”

The Extrication and First Aid & Trauma Challenges promise to be highly interactive and immersive experiences for participants and show visitors alike. The Emergency Services Show also offers a programme of free CPD seminars covering Lessons Learnt, Health & Wellbeing, Emerging Technologies and IT, while the College of Paramedics will host its well-attended CPD training sessions on both days of the event.

With over 450 exhibiting companies, The Emergency Services Show is the UK’s largest event for the emergency services and offers many opportunities to get hands-on with the latest kit and simulation technology. It is supported by the Airport Fire Officers Association, British Fire Services Association, Fire Industry Association, FIRE AID and International Development, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Institution of Fire Engineers, JESIP, The Fire Fighters Charity, the National Fire Chiefs Council and UKRO.

All aspects of The Emergency Services Show, including the exhibition, seminars and challenges are free to attend, as is parking at the venue. To register for free entry and to find out more visit www.emergencyuk.com

Two firefighters compete in the 2018 first aid and trauma challenge at the NEC

Our emergency response work is rated ‘outstanding’

A graphic representing a city skyline

West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) has been graded as ‘Good’ in a report published today (20 June) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). 

This is the first report completed by HMICFRS into WMFS since the inspection programme recommenced in 2018 after a break of several years, during which time WMFS has seen significant government funding reductions.    

Overall the inspectorate has commented that they are ‘very pleased with the performance of West Midlands Fire Service in keeping people safe and secure, and in particular with its effectiveness 

This has been made possible through the commitment of our staff in supporting the organisation to evolve so as to maintain or improve vital services to the community. We hope that people across the West Midlands take confidence from the way in which we respond to incidents and reduce risk and vulnerability within the community.  

WMFS is the only fire and rescue service, out of 30 assessed in two rounds of inspections to date, to receive the top ‘outstanding’ rating for its emergency response work.  

Our response work contributes to our overall rating of ‘good’ for effectiveness, efficiency and how well we look after our staff. 

Phil Loach, our Chief Fire Officer, said: “We know, from our previous consultations, that the public expect and value a gold standard emergency response service. I’m delighted by the report’s recognition of the hard work, dedication and professionalism of staff in providing exactly that. 

“We get to our most life-threatening emergencies in an average of 4 minutes and 43 seconds. This is made possible by our Service Delivery Model, which enables us to deliver assertive, effective and safe emergency response.” 

The report adds that WMFS “has developed a comprehensive understanding of risk” which helps us plan the use of our resources effectively to deliver response, prevention and protection services. 

CFO Loach added “Because we understand risk and how to manage it through prevention and protection activities, we can use our different shift systems and different vehicles with differently sized crews to be in the community working to reduce risk and vulnerability. This work is done by the same frontline firefighters who respond to 999 calls and is targeted at the West Midlands’ most vulnerable people and premises. 

“We welcome the report from HMICFRS and our staff and communities should be reassured that there are many areas for celebration. As an organisation we are always looking for ways to improve and there are areas within the report which recommend areas for focus. We will use the information in the report as part of the evidence to support ongoing development.  As an organisation we aim to continue to deliver a first-class service to make our communities safer, stronger and healthier.” 

Cllr John Edwards, Chair of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority commented: “I’m very pleased with the outcome of this national inspection. Across the measures of effectiveness, efficiency and people West Midlands Fire Service has been found to have an overall grading of ‘good’, and on the vital issue of responding to incidents we have been ranked as ‘outstanding’.  

Our average response time to life-threatening incidents is validated at 4 minutes 43 seconds, probably the fastest in the UK 

Given the unprecedented level of government funding reductions totalling £38 million since 2011 this performance is remarkable. My thanks go to every member of staff at WMFS who have contributed to this achievement. It underlines the success of the strategy that has been implemented over many years.” 

To read our full report and press release from HMICFRS, please click here. 

Aghia Pal Singh MBE

We’re proud and delighted that Aghia Pal Singh, a member of our staff, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2019.   

Aghia (59), who’s from Walsall and has worked as an infrastructure engineer in our ICT department for 22 years, has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.    

The honour recognises his services to the communities of the West Midlands and his voluntary work in the UK and abroad.

Aghia, who’s married and has a daughter and two sons, said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be awarded the MBE. I read the letter in disbelief and was overcome with emotion. I’m very grateful to whoever put me forward.    

“Working for West Midlands Fire Service has given me the opportunity to give something to the community – be that at work, through volunteering with the UK International Search and Rescue Team or via the various charity projects with which I’m involved.   

“As a Sikh I have tried, over the years, to put back into the community. Sikhism teaches that people should try to become less self-centred and live their lives in the selfless service of others.   

“All I wanted to do was make a difference in people’s lives. I’m very humbled.”   

Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach said: “Aghia’s MBE is worthy recognition indeed. He is quiet, unassuming and professional and his contribution to the community is understated.    

“He is passionate about the work he does for those who are less fortunate, and dedicated to promoting equality and awareness of other cultures.”   

Aghia is one of a group of WMFS staff who volunteer their skills and expertise as members of UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR). On behalf of the UK Government they have been deployed on several occasions to disasters around the world.   

Aghia is particularly proud of the links he has helped to foster with the Matumaini Orphanage in Tanzania, which he and WMFS colleagues have visited several times to help improve its facilities.    

He said: “The children have given us more than we could ever give them, in just teaching us to be happy however hard life might be. Even though they have very little, they always had a smile on their face.   

“I understand that the honours system exists to thank recipients for their services to the community, but also to encourage others to do the same. I hope my award has that effect on my family, friends and others who know me.”