Reputation is Everything

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Why the industry must act to address the long-standing issues of culture and behaviour within the fire and rescue service

The recent reports regarding behaviours in the British fire and rescue service certainly make uncomfortable reading, however I cannot say that it is a surprise to me as this is just the latest in a series of reports which has identified the same things as the preceding ones. The only difference being the report has been commissioned by a new organisation and written by another author. So why will this report be any different?

For some leaders, there will be a feeling of real discomfort as they will have participated in some of the behaviours being described or have allowed them to happen on their watch. Regardless of the position individuals hold today, they cannot change what has happened nor can they hide behind tradition as justification. They must, however, change the fire and rescue service now and for the future to ensure that it is inclusive for all and accurately reflects the professional organisation which the public rightly expect and demand.

There can be no room for rationalising the deviation from what is expected compared to what has been delivered. It is now time to accept that several independent reports have identified that the culture must change, and certain behaviours must stop and those who think it’s not us, it’s the others need to take their heads out of the sand.

For some leaders, there will be a feeling of real discomfort

Managers, at all levels, in the fire and rescue service have a responsibility to ensure that this vital public service moves rapidly to become a genuinely fair and equitable workplace for all.

It is now time for the implementation of a meaningful action plan that is understood by all managers and the workforce which will bring about the change that is required. Leadership needs to come from the top, starting with organisations like, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) as well as representative bodies, including the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the Fire Officers Association (FOA) and those representing non-uniformed members of the service.

It would appear that HMICFRS is seen to have no teeth with many senior fire officers and Fire and Rescue Authorities paying little or no attention to the reports and recommendations provided following an inspection. With Chief Fire Officers (CFO) being appointed by, and answerable to, elected members and with instructions issued by the NFCC being purely advice and guidance and not mandatory, is it any wonder that we see such disparity across UK fire and rescue services?

It is also interesting to note that the NFCC appears akin to a private members club with entry only being offered to the most senior fire officers. The organisation operates as a registered charity, with a trading company delivering training and other services in return for remuneration as well as direct funding from central government. There is much mistrust shown towards the NFCC with it being seen as an exclusive order where members take on roles to ensure their national exposure for the next promotion and is rarely challenged when failing to deliver.

Is it time that CFOs are made accountable for their performance and the actions of their staff, with an independent national body being responsible for monitoring results and imposing sanctions?

Having spoken to several US Fire Chiefs this problem is not unique to the UK and is just as prevalent on the other side of the Atlantic. I remember back in the 1990’s being part of the UK – US Fire Officers Symposium which was set up by my good friends Bill Peterson and Dennis Davis to work collaboratively to deal with common issues. Perhaps it is time for this to be resurrected – is anyone interested?

Everyone in the fire and rescue service from the newest recruit to the most experienced employees need to engage in rapid change. It is time to accept some behaviours must stop, that we cannot hide behind tradition and out of date values. The Fire Standards Board was created to deliver the conduct and behaviours required but unless they are truly adopted and embedded, they are worthless.

Together we must take forward the very best of the fire and rescue service, regain the reputation earned through public trust and demonstrate to the public that they can be assured of a modern organisation that is able to take responsibility for itself and become a beacon as both employer and service provider.

About the Author

Duncan J. White has been an integral part of the global fire community for over 36 years. He took up the position of Managing Editor with International Fire and Safety Journal in January of this year. His honest approach, diligence and extensive knowledge of the industry means that he is ideally placed to ensure that IFSJ remains at the forefront of fire publishing.

To share your thoughts on this piece or to discuss editorial ideas please contact Duncan. His email address is [email protected]     

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