Originally published in June 2014
Dr Tim Brain (2013) challenges whether pro activity is sustainable during times of austerity. The point that he is making is that as public services are cut, something has to give and the opportunity to solve problems in a proactive fashion may be one of the prime candidates to hit the cutting room floor.
This may not be the case in all public services. Last week I visited Cleveland Fire Brigade who, like most public services, is having their budgets reduced by a significant figure. However, as a result of a sustained program of pro activity they are using this approach to reduce calls for service. During my visit I spoke to Les Jones, Head of Community Safety, Denise Lee, Community Engagement and Events Officer and Steve McCarten, District Manager for Hartlepool and Stockton.
For those who are not knowledgeable about Cleveland Fire Brigade, they have 419 whole time and 74 retained fire fighters, and 114 support staff, they cover an area of 597 square kilometres and they have the third highest number of Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites in Europe (they are the ones that if they go on fire they cause a BIG problem). The Brigade is now responding to under 8,000 incidents per year, an all-time low and half of what they responded to 10 years ago (Service Plan 2014-15). They are also members of The WOW! Awards and are multiple winners of national customer service awards.
However, it is perhaps their sustained youth engagement programme that is having the greatest impact. The Brigade has been working with young people and with the Princes Trust for some time in educating them about the dangers of fire, particularly fire in the home. As a result, Cleveland Fire Brigade did not attend a single house fire started by a young person in last 12 months. Bearing in mind the cost of such an incident by all emergency services; dowsing the fire, the subsequent investigation and any emergency treatment, I would say that is an impressive statistic.
But, their proactive work does not stop there. The work that the Brigade is undertaking with offenders is also impressive. As part of their community service, offenders from a nearby open prison work with the Brigade to cut fire breaks in the moorland that surrounds the area.
During hot summers and in windy conditions moorland fires pose a big threat to wild life, properties and communities. So the offenders cut fire breaks to enable the fire fighters control fires and keep them localised to a small area.
I was also told of a young man who was jailed for five years for his part in an armed robbery. As a result of working with the Princes Trust the young man was given the opportunity to work with the Brigade and start to learn new skills and behaviours that would enable him to contribute to society instead of taking from it. As a result, this young man went on to get a job with West Middlesbrough Trust.
These are only a few of the stories that I was told. The Fire Service nationally appears to be taking pro activity very seriously and is reducing the opportunities for people to be hurt in fires. This is good news for the public and demonstrates a clear strategy to ‘prevent’ fire instead of having to ‘respond’ to fire.