Today’s columnist, James Courtney, chief fire officer: Flexibility is key to safe future

South Yorkshire fire chief James Courtney.
South Yorkshire fire chief James Courtney.
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This month we’ve published what is thought to be the largest piece of research into fire deaths in Yorkshire ever produced.

Fatal fires have dropped dramatically in recent years both in our region and across the UK thanks to the work we are already doing to make local communities safer.

But in the last five years, 133 people have still died in house fires in Yorkshire and Humber.

Among various findings, the report finally disproves some popular public myths around house fires, including the idea that most fire deaths happen at night. In fact, this research has found that tea time is the deadliest time of the day.

Information like this is invaluable in helping us to better target the safety advice we give to local people. It is also useful in helping us to provide the most flexible, efficient service to the public that we can.

Indeed, flexibility is one of the key things Government has asked every fire and rescue service to consider in developing ‘efficiency plans’, which we must submit this autumn.

The type of thing the Government expects to see in an efficiency plan includes the steps we will take to work more closely with the police and ambulance services, adopting more flexible working practices including the effective use of ‘on-call’ firefighters and a commitment to publish more information on performance and spending, so that you, the public, can better hold us to account.

In return, and provided the Government approves the plans, we will be offered a fixed funding settlement until 2019/20, which will help us to better plan the services we provide to the people of South Yorkshire.

Some of the options we are considering as part of this work include making more fire engines available in the day when we know that our demand is highest, whether that’s attending fires, road traffic collisions and other emergencies, or carrying out important safety work and fitting smoke alarms.

At night, while maintaining a good level of immediately available firefighters, these fire engines may become ‘on call’, meaning that they will be available to bring in to provide extra cover if needed, for example if our other crews are busy dealing with a particularly large incident.

My job as Chief Fire Officer is to keep you safe and provide an excellent public service in the most efficient way possible for the taxpayer.

Exploring options such as this is one of the ways my colleagues and I will continue to do this.