Page 10 - July 2020
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  THE SALAMANDER | July 2020
Stepping up to COVID-19 – One Fire and Rescue Service perspective
Liveryman CFO Paul M Fuller CBE QFSM MStJ DL describes how Bedfordshire FRS has Stepped up to COVID-19.
Discussing news from China about a virus ravaging a city called Wuhan I said to a colleague “this is getting pretty worrying isn’t it?” He said “I think its just flu really a bit off a fuss over nothing!!” Who would have predicted then how things were going to develop as problems in the Far East became those of America and Europe?
I think the first thing which happened was to prepare the NHS for what was coming and protect the vulnerable by isolation. Our approach was to treat the crisis as though it were a massive operational incident which created both the operating principle of “do whatever to help meet the needs of our communities” and a brisk battle rhythm which enabled us to react very quickly. This was recognising, of course, that we are a first response Emergency Service and so whatever we put in place was only interim until others were able to make substantive arrangements.
I am sure much of what we put in place or facilitated through partnership and working together has been replicated by Fire and Rescue Services all over the country and I hope the examples I give here are seen as representative of the commitment of Fire Fighters and support staff from all over our nation.
Right from the beginning of the restrictions we were worried about the vulnerable. If they couldn’t go out how would they
get things they needed? Working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner we used demographic data to determine who were the most vulnerable and, within 5 days of “lockdown”, we were starting to deliver support packs containing essential items to our communities. These particularly included things which were becoming very scarce in retail outlets that we were able to source through our existing relationship with wholesale. By the end of week 2, we had delivered nearly 300 parcels and engaged with 500 vulnerable people. This was at a time when we had sent all, except operational response staff, home and then rebuilt a skeleton staff of people who had to come to work, making arrangements for everyone else to work from home, even though that may be different work from that which they would normally do.
It quickly became clear we needed to communicate with both our staff and the public so they understood that our operational response remained unchanged, despite all the other new things we were trying to put in place. We also needed to be very clear about our expectations for social distancing and sanitisation arrangements, secondary employment and a host of other safety issues.
It was important we were able to isolate our operational control room to ensure the safety and resilience of that relatively small but essential team who are absolutely fundamental to our
response capability.
To deal with that we created a series of staff and public film clips which were posted either internally or on YouTube. Of course, all the normal communication channels were also maintained, such as the weekly bulletin etc and we also increased our presence on local TVandRadiowithspecificthemes, including our work with Ambulance support,bonfiresandwatersafety. Principal Officer contact with staff has been maintained by a combination of virtual and physical visits at social distance; in most cases we have been fortunate to have been able to meet outside.
One particular watch at Kempston Fire Station filmed a virtual year 2 fire safety visit which they then posted onto YouTube to give children of that age something to do during “lockdown” whilst at the same time helping to maintain public engagement. There is a similar example with Luton Fire Station being filmed making a huge poppy in the yard to celebrate VE Day and in my own case, reading a story from the back of a fire appliance for “Stay at Home Storytime”.
Like any operational ‘job’, we knew it was really important to have good quality information and we attended virtual weekly briefings with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC). In addition, I have regular virtual meetings with Regional Fire Chiefs as well as local Emergency Service colleagues. Within the Fire
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