The event, hosted through joint efforts between the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) and UCLan, saw the coming together of five representatives from the North-Western fire authorities. Chief Fire Officers Ian Cartwright, Dan Stephens, Paul Hancock and Chris Kenny, from Cumbria, Merseyside, Cheshire and Lancashire Fire Authorities respectively, attended the event along with Peter O’Reilly, the director of prevention and protection for Manchester Fire Authority.
The hotly anticipated event attracted an attentive crowd keen to gain an insight into the future direction the fire authorities would take on some of the key contemporary topics currently setting the agenda. The audience was a combination of UCLan students, fire engineers and fire service representatives who had all submitted their own questions prior to the start of the event.
Views were sought on combining the fire service with the ambulance service. The general consensus was that closer working with the ambulance service was favourable and sharing facilities in the future was a possibility in the face of austerity. Despite this the panel did not advocate possible future mergers. One worry expressed was that it could potentially side-line responder training as the priorities would turn to the much more frequent work of on call paramedics.
With an eighteen-month jail sentence handed out to a Blackpool landlord recently for a catalogue of 15 breaches of fire regulations, the importance of a vigilant fire safety team was covered extensively. The panel were keen to confirm the continued role that fire engineering should play in the future role of the service and how a fine balance must be met between meeting cost cutting realities and leaving an invaluable service without adequate resources.
Another topic which was met with much debate was the recent transition to North West Fire Control which saw Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester merge their control centres and procedures with the aim of creating a financially viable and efficient control centre that would improve cross border response. Paul Hancock, who oversaw the project, recognised that there were improvements to be made but that considering the ambition of the project there had been relatively few setbacks.
UCLan student Tom Powell was keen to know what the future of fire fighter recruitment in the North West would involve. He asked the panel as to whether they would be recruiting directly from retained or if there would be recruitment drives for the public in the near future. The answers from the different Chief Fire Officers reflected the differences in the service structures amongst the fire authorities.
Services more reliant on their retained capabilities suggested that a proportion of recruitment would more than likely be from their skilled retained fire fighters who had demonstrated themselves in their current role. Services which had few retained fire fighters were more likely to recruit from the public on a larger scale.
The event allowed a forum in which a wide range of representatives from all aspects of the fire safety could exchange views and opinions on the future of the fire service in the North West and was a well-received success.