Chief praises staff as heatwave causes major incident
As the sun set on the highest temperatures ever seen in the UK, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland has praised the hard work of staff during this week’s heatwave.
He said: "The last two days have seen us face significant challenges and pushed us to the limits of our capacity. For long periods in the afternoon, we had almost every available fire engine committed to an incident, which is unprecedented for us.
"Our Combined Fire Control was under immense pressure throughout the two days, dealing with many calls for both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, with both counties having significant fires. At one stage, the duty call handlers were providing mobilising support for other fire services across the country due to unprecedented demand elsewhere. They were not only dealing with emergencies from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, but also from London, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire."
Over the two days call handlers dealt with almost 800 calls, with nearly 300 of these between 2pm and 5pm on Tuesday when they were assisting other services. Whilst dealing with the calls, they sent fire engines to 92 incidents in Cambridgeshire, the highest amount ever for a single day since at least 2009 when our current recording system was implemented. The average amount of incidents for a weekday in July is 25. They also worked to ensure there were fire engines available in different parts of the county and supported neighbouring fire and rescue services where possible with incidents near our borders, although the ability to do this yesterday was limited.
Chris added: "In times like these I am so proud of the people we have. Everyone has demonstrated over the last couple of days their passion for serving the community and giving their best, but also being there to help each other. We had our officers set up our Major Incident Command Room to coordinate our crews and ensure we could relieve and rotate them around to make sure they were fit and well. They were also checking on the welfare of our control staff and worked with support staff to provide refreshments, as they literally could not leave their desks at some points of the day. Our communication team was also on hand to ensure we were not only informing the public of the key incidents, but also sending key safety messages to try and reduce the amount of incidents happening. Everyone pitched in together to make sure we were providing the best level of service we could.
"It’s also really heartening to see residents interacting with us and sending us their praise and thanks. We’ve had more than 600 comments across our social media channels from people appreciating the hard work of the crews out at incidents and our call handlers in our Combine Fire Control. They clearly recognise the conditions we’ve been working in and it means a lot to us that people take the time to show us their support."
Many of the crews that were responding to incidents during the heatwave were made up of on-call staff, who made themselves available knowing the heat would bring additional challenges.
Chris said: "As a Service that relies heavily on part time firefighters who juggle their day jobs to support us, we always struggle with appliance availability during the day, sometimes having as few as eight on-call appliances available on any weekday. However, in the lead up to the extreme weather many of our on-call staff responded to our requests for support and we were able to increase our on-call availability to between 12 and 20 appliances throughout both days. Many of our on-call staff will have taken time off from their day jobs, or moved work around if they’re self-employed, to make themselves available to respond to emergencies knowing their community needed them."
Sadly, the pressures experienced over the last two days will not be a one-off.
Chris concluded: "The last couple of days have seen our Service pushed to the very limit. Having nearly every available fire engine committed to an incident is a situation that concerns me as we reached a stage where we may have struggled to provide an immediate service to someone in an emergency or at the very least taken longer to get there.
"We often rely on other services to assist us during big incidents, much like our crews did over the weekend with the large fire on the Essex border. However when all services are being stretched like this, we can’t always rely on each other. Widespread events like the extreme weather pushes every service to the limits, as we saw on Tuesday with our call handlers having to provide support to some of the larger services in the country.
"Our staff can hold their heads high as they’ve all stepped up to the challenges from the extreme heatwave and I am very proud of everyone in the Service for their hard work."