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Posted by: CFO Steve McGuirk


A big day for us - not only will we be welcoming back the UK team who have been to Japan today at Manchester Airport, but we have virtually every station doing 'unsung' heroic deeds raising money for our firefighters charity - car washing on their station or close to it.  And I am really not being flippant - nor am I detracting in any way from the brilliant job our team has done in Japan.

And that's the thing about our service that we must continue to try to communicate and promote - day in and day out people do things that are obviously heroic but lots of others make a difference by doing things that may not be as obvious.  Does that make them back office? Or are they all part of the chain that ultimately delivers the service?

Japan also really hammers home the issue of managing health and safety in emergency situations, especially when I see the courage of the firefighters fighting the blaze at the nuclear plant.

They are all volunteers and face a real and genuine threat that they will not come out alive - nobody is directly involved, rather they recognise that the potential to their wider community is enormous, and, to them, that makes their potential sacrifice justified and you know what? I am sure their whole community not only agrees with them, but is unbelievably thankful they are prepared to do so.

Translate that to incidents of a much lower level and size here - but nevertheless challenging.

I was the president of CFOA when four firefighters were tragically killed in Warwickshire a few years ago (and this incident has recently lead to some of the officers being charged with gross negligence manslaughter).  This latter point means I ought not to say too much about the incident itself as we need to see what happens through the judicial process.  What I will say though is that I was bombarded with questions by the media at the time - starting from the premiss that the only reason firefighters would enter a burning building was to rescue someone - no other possibility was seemingly countenanced.  And to be honest that idea seems to have prevailed.

The reality, as I pointed out at the time, was and is that there are many many reasons why firefighters need to enter buildings - as much as anything to prevent an incident getting worse and leading to major events that could then jeopardise life.  In other words, we shouldn't wait for tragedies to be in front of our eyes - our role is to avert them. Because it's an emergency - people call the emergency services - that's what we do.

And sometimes yes that means going into burning buildings when no-one is inside and yes, that may be very dangerous.  And whilst of course we can train and provide as much equipment as possible - and I am really not advocating a casual approach or disregard for health and safety -  it will still be the case.  And it isn't - thankfully -  going to be an incident on the scale of Japan and it may be an incident that would harm of even kill 'just a few people' in the vicinity that would not be global news - but it nevertheless remains our role.

Just a few years ago on a cold night in Handsworth, where I was a station commander, I was in charge of an incident where I asked for volunteers to go with me to remove some dangerous cylinders looking very likely to explode and seriously injure the people watching and standing by (and a fire however small will attract people's natural curiosity).  It was a hairy few minutes I can tell you, but we removed the cylinders and no-one noticed and thankfully nothing happened.  Was this gung ho? I didn't feel gung ho at the time (truth is I was petrified actually). Did I have a realistic appraisal of how many people would be killed or injured and did I 'fully evaluate' all the risks (not really there wasn't a great deal of time).  And today all of it would have been captured on film with 'the movie' on facebook before the incident was finished, with the possibility of every second of the decision making process unfolding being freeze framed and analysed in great detail.

These kind of incidents can or could happen in every town and city in the country and this without even venturing in to the very scary and somewhat over dramatic media speculation.

But it does illustrate just how difficult and challenging and complex our role is today.

I am looking forward to meeting and welcoming our team back and saying thank you on behalf off all of us for what they have.

I would also say thank you though to the dozens of folk turning out today to raise funds for our charity.

Last update: 13/06/2011 09:13:38
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